This is shaping up to be an enthralling, and very public, brawl. As a commenter on an earlier posting pointed out, this matter will be open to public gaze once it starts to process through the Australian Courts. If the Court case captures the public imagination, as it no doubt will, it will take on a life of its own. No matter what the eventual outcome, Dubai's reputation, in Australia at least, will be severely damaged, mud will be slung and some of its going to stick.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald 27 July 09
FOR more than 150 years, Geelong Grammar has provided its privileged graduates with the keys to success in an Anglo-dominated Australia. But for the Old Grammarian classmates and property industry figures Angus Reed and Matt Joyce, some training in doing business in more exotic places like the United Arab Emirates might have been more useful.
The Herald can reveal that Mr Reed, a Melbourne-based developer, has emerged as the mystery man at the heart of a Dubai property deal gone bad; a transaction that has left Mr Joyce and and another Australian executive, Marcus Lee, languishing in prison for six months and facing trial for fraud.
Mr Reed and an Australian lawyer, Anthony Brearley, are believed to have left Dubai before a police investigation, thus avoiding jail. Well-placed sources last night confirmed that Mr Reed and Mr Brearley have been declared "fugitives" in Dubai and will be tried in their absence.
The Herald also understands that the James Packer-backed developer Sunland Corporation has Mr Reed and Mr Joyce in its sights as it prepares civil action to recoup millions it says it lost on the deal.
Like thousands of their colleagues, Mr Reed and Mr Joyce ventured to Dubai a few years ago in search of riches. The dream turned sour last year for Mr Joyce in particular, when the emirate's "miracle" property boom proved to be a very fragile bubble.
Until his arrest in January, Mr Joyce had been managing director and Mr Lee a senior executive of Dubai Waterfront, a subsidiary of the state-owned Nakheel Corporation. It is the world's biggest waterfront development.
Important to the charges against Mr Joyce and Mr Reed are payments allegedly made by Mr Reed's Australian company, Prudentia Investments, to a bank account in Jersey held by Mr Joyce. Both men are expected to insist that any such payments were unconnected with the Dubai property deal in question.
A source close to Mr Reed says he is deeply upset by his mate's predicament but has not returned to Dubai for fear of being arrested.
At the core of the row is the sale in 2007 of a parcel of development land by Dubai Waterfront to Sunland. Prudentia is believed to have partnered Sunland in the purchase of the waterfront site. But Prudentia sold its share of the project to Sunland as the boom continued through 2007. Now Sunland has put development of the site on hold and says it is the victim of fraud.
It has made a formal complaint to Queensland police and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The Herald understands the company names Mr Reed, Mr Joyce and Mr Lee.
One source close to one of the families said the saga had led to tension between the two old school friends, a suggestion rejected by a spokesman for Mr Joyce.
Mr Joyce and Mr Lee insist they are innocent. Australian business sources have complained that the two became scapegoats amid the property collapse in Dubai, where "commissions" or kickbacks have been commonplace.
The Dubai prosecutors and Sunland, which has billions at stake in Dubai, see things differently. Sunland has stated publicly that it will seek "civil remedies in respect of the alleged fraud".
It has repeatedly stated that it is co-operating fully with the Dubai authorities in its investigation of Mr Joyce and Mr Lee but has denied being behind the police action against them.
Any civil action will be taken in Australia, not Dubai. But in what is shaping up as a bitter stoush, with big-name lawyers such as Robert Richter (QC, William Crockett Chambers in Melbourne and barrister for underworld gunman Mick Gatto) likely to be throwing the punches, the case is set to open a rare window into the opaque world of business and government in a country dominated by its ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
Mr Reed is well-known in property circles, including as an adviser to the Nauru Government in the 1990s, when it lost a fortune on the Melbourne property market.
Those who know the two men say Mr Joyce is quiet and cautious while Mr Reed is more entrepreneurial and daring. It is counter-intuitive, they say, that Mr Reed is now a free man at home in Toorak while Mr Joyce sweats it out in a Dubai jail.
After a thorough vetting by Mr Reed's lawyers, Prudentia issued a brief written statement. The lawyers would not allow Mr Reed to be quoted. Instead, a company "spokesman" said: "Some years ago, the Prudentia group, through its Singapore-based subsidiary, was involved in a transaction which we understand is the subject of the investigation by the Dubai authorities.
"The Prudentia group has at all times acted properly and with integrity and is concerned and surprised that there would be any allegations of wrongdoing against representatives of any of the parties involved in the transaction."
Mr Joyce's Melbourne lawyer, Martin Amad, restated his client's innocence and questioned Sunland's motives. He said the land sale was a "legitimate business transaction that occurred prior to the global economic downturn. Sunland has subsequently incurred a huge loss on the project and has written down the value of the land substantially."
He added: "Shareholders of Sunland would hope that Sunland exercised due diligence prior to purchasing the land. After all, they would have their shareholders believe they are an experienced and sophisticated property developer."
He said that, contrary to previous reports, there had never been an allegation of Sunland paying consultancy fees to Dubai Waterfront.
Mr Joyce's wife and three children and Mr Lee's wife are still in Dubai, awaiting the outcome of the fraud trial.
Sunland did not wish to add to a written statement made to the Stock Exchange last week.
In a separate matter in Sydney last week, Prudentia refused to comment about its plans for the Waratah Park Earth Sanctuary, where Skippy the Bush Kangaroo was filmed in the 1960s, after the RSPCA put down two emaciated kangaroos at the closed park. State authorities say Prudentia has failed to obtain a licence to care for more than 100 native animals in the park since it took over the site in Duffys Forest, on the northern beaches, in 2006. Residents fear the company has let the site run down because it wants to build houses there.