Thursday, 19 February 2009

Bidder's linked to Australian jailed in Dubai

The proposed Barangaroo site on Sydney Harbour. Graphic from NSW Planning site

From the Sydney Morning Herald, written by Rick Feneley and Carolyn Cummins
February 19, 2009
The Australian chief of Dubai's biggest property development company has refused to answer questions about two fellow Australian colleagues who have been jailed on suspicion of bribery.
Chris O'Donnell is the chief executive officer of Dubai's biggest property developer, the state-owned Nakheel, which happens to be part of a consortium bidding to build Sydney's $2.5 billion Barangaroo development. (The link to the Planning NSW planning report is here. As background, Barangaroo is a 22-hectare waterfront site at East Darling Harbour in Sydney, Australia. The Barangaroo site will become an office/apartment/hotel complex....hmmm starting to sound familiar? The site is named after the wife of Bennelong, after whom nearby Bennelong Point, site of the Opera House, was named. The demolition plan is below. )
Last month, Nakheel dumped Mr O'Donnell's Australian colleague, Matt Joyce, as the general manager of Dubai Waterfront, the world's biggest waterfront development, amid the global credit squeeze and a freefall in Dubai's property values. Soon afterwards, Joyce, 43, and a 44-year-old Australian colleague were arrested as part of a fraud and corruption investigation.
The pair deny any wrongdoing but are being held without charge, according to their lawyer, as are about 20 executives caught up in the investigation.

Joyce's wife, Angela, and their three young children are still in Dubai, anxiously awaiting his release, as are the other man's family. The Herald understands both men attended Geelong Grammar.

The Gulf News has reported the bribery claims against them involve 43 million dirhams ($18.2 million) but their Australian lawyer, Martin Amad, insists no bribe was paid. He also says no charges have been laid, despite consular advice to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that the men have been charged with an ``economic offence''. Mr Amad believes meaning of the word ``charge'' has been lost in translation.

Two days after receiving an extensive list of questions from the Herald, Mr O'Donnell's Dubai office responded last night by saying it would be "inappropriate for us to comment on any of your queries".

Nakheel is the biggest stakeholder in the Australian property group Mirvac, with a 14.9 per cent. Nakheel and Mirvac are in a consortium bidding for Barangaroo with Leighton Projects and Macquarie Property Development and Finance.

Nakheel has put many of its dazzling Dubai projects on hold and sacked hundreds of staff, and the Herald asked Mr O'Donnell's office if the company was still committed to Barangaroo. It replied that "at this stage, based on current government guidance for the project, we are working with our consortium partners ... towards a comprehensive bid".

When Mirvac reported a $645.7 million loss on Wednesday, its managing director, Nick Collishaw, said: "We have spoken to Nakheel, as we do with our major shareholders, and they remain committed to investing in our group.

"The group is also committed to its joint-venture deal in Barangaroo."

The deadline for the bids is March 31. The other shortlisted bidders Lend Lease/Westpac Corporation and Brookfield Multiplex.

In Australia, Mr O'Donnell had been managing director of Investa Property Group, once Australia's largest listed owner of commercial property, and executive director of Westpac Investment Property Limited.

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