Friday, 14 August 2009

On Safari

The Caro-Van is on safari in Kenya and Tanzania for the next two weeks. The route we're following is marked in pink. Looking forward to seeing the "Big 5" and lots of other wonderful things - but not too close!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Dubai faces homes surplus of 30,600 by end of '09

Its no wonder that Dubai residents have become sceptical of any announcement that anyone makes about anything relating to the current state of the Dubai property market. On one hand we read announcements, often from unnamed sources from various government departments or from reps from real estate agents with an obvious vesting interest, telling us that property prices are on the rise, the population of Dubai has increased over the past quarter, visitor numbers are up, hotel occupancy is 100% and everything is generally tickedy-boo. Then we read reports like the following from today's issue of
Dubai is set to have a surplus of up to 31,000 residential units mainly due to the decline in the expat population by the end of the year, according to a new report by JP Morgan.
The investment bank's study into real estate in the Middle East and North Africa region said despite a recent small pickup in transaction volumes, supply overhang in the Dubai property market would reach 28,500 units by end 2009 due to the modest economic forecast and negative population growth estimates. "Our demand supply balance is based on the difference between cumulative supply of 253,000 available by end 2008 and required units derived using average household size of 5.8 per unit and potential repossessions from mortgage defaults.
"This takes our cumulative residential supply overhang to 30,600 by end 2009, though most of the overhang is attributable to fresh supply and incremental supply from repossessed units only accounts for six per cent of the total surplus in 2009, as per our estimates."
Beyond 2009, JP Morgan feels the forecast 3.5 percent population growth for Dubai is unlikely to absorb the upcoming supply of residential units, Emirates Business reported on Thursday, citing the study.
"However, we expect the impact of this overhang will largely be felt by recently supplied and upcoming units in new and outer Dubai area, where the occupancy levels are relatively low making price recovery a slow and painful process."
The report added: "The prospect of negative population growth and slow economic recovery does paint a cautious picture for Dubai's residential market in the near to medium term, where rising demand supply surplus may hamper price recovery."
However, JP Morgan added that due to Dubai's unique status as a liberal, tax-free and business-friendly destination, the banks could not rule out surprise demand recovery from regional investors.
By contrast, the short-term supply of homes in Abu Dhabi remains fairly limited, according to the report.
"We believe that high occupancy levels are unlikely to ease from near 100 per cent any time soon." JP Morgan said.

"Mata Hari" claims money & guns story untrue: "I'm in Dubai".

Source: Emirates Business 24/7, 13 August 09
A senior executive of Dubai's real estate sector yesterday accused her former husband of spreading rumours about her being convicted by an Egyptian court on charges of money laundering and involvement in arms trading.
Malika Karoum told Emirates Business the claims were made in a Dutch tabloid magazine to damage her reputation, career and life.
"This whole story has been created by my ex-husband and his private detective," she said. "I was shocked to see my picture on the front page of your paper. I am Malika Karoum and I have been living and working in Dubai for the past three years. I have no problem with any authorities or police. Call any of my ex-employees and check with them. The only correct thing in this article is that I have worked for Omniyat, Define and ACI. My ex-husband started this and there is a long dispute between us over custody rights for our son. He says anything to destroy me and destroy my reputation by saying I am a spy and mafia and a fraud."
Karoum alleged her ex-husband was a fugitive and accused him of spreading lies about her on the internet. "All these blogs are created by my ex-husband and a private detective. He has been doing this for the past six years through my family and friends. When it didn't work he started with the media."

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

More details emerge on the Sunland/Dubai Waterfront stoush.

More details on the Court documents filed by Sunland in the Federal Court of Australia (Queensland Registry) as part of their claim against Messrs Joyce and Lee. Joyce and Lee are both currently in jail in Dubai. The article also includes what seems to be the now obligatory mention of Geelong Grammar. What's with that?
Source: Sydney Morning Herald 12 August 09
Sunland Group says two developers misled it about their friendship and the rights to a block of land, write Rick Feneley and Royce Millar.
When three Australians started haggling over a $63 million plot of land in Dubai, one says the other two kept him in the dark.
David Brown, who was leading the Dubai branch of the James Packer-backed Sunland Group, says the developers Matt Joyce and Angus Reed omitted to tell him they were friends. Nor had they mentioned that this friendship went back to their school days at Geelong Grammar.
Worse, Brown says Joyce and Reed misled him over a block of land that Sunland wanted to buy in the Dubai Waterfront development, a colossal, futuristic ''master community'', of which Joyce was general manager. Brown claims the pair led him to believe that Reed and his Melbourne-based company, Prudentia Investments, had rights over this block, the prosaically named Plot D17.
Prudentia had no such rights, a Dubai authority would tell Brown later. Prudentia did not own the plot; nor had it clinched any option to buy it. So it had nothing to sell, Sunland alleges.
Instead, Brown was told, he should have negotiated directly with the land's owner, Nakheel, the government-owned developer and parent company of Dubai Waterfront, Joyce's firm.
The penny dropped too late for Brown, Sunland alleges. By now it had already bought Plot D17 and paid Reed's firm a $14 million ''consultancy fee'' for releasing the land.
This is the essence of Sunland's allegations against Joyce and Reed, contained in a statement of claim lodged in the Federal Court in Brisbane this week.
Joyce and his Australian colleague at Dubai Waterfront, Marcus Lee, are in jail in Dubai awaiting trial for alleged fraud in relation to this deal. Reed - branded a fugitive by Dubai - is back in Melbourne, still a director of Prudentia. Reed's lawyers would not comment yesterday on the Sunland document, which alleges he and Joyce were misleading or deceptive, or reckless as to the truth. But Prudentia, which Sunland is also suing, has said previously that it ''at all times acted properly and with integrity'' and was surprised by Sunland's action.
Joyce's lawyer, Martin Amad, says his client denies all the allegations against him and will defend them vigorously.
The Sunland statement says Brown, then its chief operating officer in Dubai, met Joyce several times between March and July, 2007. Brown had asked Joyce if any waterfront land was available for purchase within his project. Each time, Joyce had responded there was none left; it had all been sold to secondary developers.
But on August 15, 2007, Brown says he met a Dubai Waterfront executive who told him a new plot with beach views would be created under a planned ''reconfiguration''. However, it was already ''taken by Angus Reed''.
Later that day, Joyce called Brown and said Reed was the contact point and that the plot could be bought at 135 United Arab Emirate dirhams ($44) a square foot; a property speculator was likely to pay 175 dirhams.
The next day, Brown called Reed in Australia. Reed suggested a joint venture to develop the land. Four days later, when they met in Dubai, Reed allegedly told Brown he could obtain the price of 135 dirhams a square foot from Dubai Waterfront, but ''I want compensation'' of 40 dirhams a square foot. He allegedly added that it would be more tax-effective to pay this as a fee to Prudentia for ''consultancy services''.
On August 29, Sunland's statement alleges, Joyce called Brown and said words to the effect: ''Sunland should come to an agreement with Reed as soon as possible because there were other buyers around, including Russians, who might offer Reed 220 dirhams per square foot or more for the land.''
Lee and Dubai Waterfront's senior legal counsel, Anthony Brearly, met Brown on September 12. Brown says one or both of them - he cannot be sure which - said ''you should immediately put your foot on the plot''. On September 19, 2007, the deal was done. Rather than a joint venture, Sunland would buy the whole plot. Reed accepted its offer of a flat fee of 20 million dirhams to buy Prudentia's right over the land, but Sunland agreed to an addition.
It alleges Reed negotiated a reduced sale price of 120 dirhams a square foot - and the saving would go to Prudentia as a ''land uplift fee''. Dubai Waterfront would compensate Sunland for that uplift fee by allowing it to increase the density of its construction. Better still, Dubai Waterfront would waive the entire purchase price if Sunland could complete the project within four years. Sunland has yet to turn a sod on the site.
After the deal, Prudentia arranged for its consultancy fee of 44,105,780 dirhams to be paid to a new subsidiary in Singapore, Hanley Investments.
On December 1 last year, the Sunland statement alleges, the director of Dubai's Financial Audit Department told Brown that Reed and Prudentia had no right to sell the land. On January 21 Dubai police interviewed Brown. Four days later, they arrested Joyce and Lee. Reed is believed to have been out of Dubai at the time. After six months in custody, Joyce and Lee were charged with fraud last month. Only then did police hand back the passport of Brown, who had been assisting them.
Sunland is suing Joyce, Reed, Prudentia and Hanley Investments.

The smacking debate in NZ comes to Dubai.

This morning I received a letter from the Chief Electoral Office of the Ministry of Justice in New Zealand. I've been away from NZ for some years so, as I opened the envelope I wondered, "What could be so vitally important to the future of our nation that the Minje has gone to the expense of contacting me, and seemingly every other Kiwi voter worldwide, just months after a General Election?" The letter began, "Dear Voter…." (very Red Dwarf), and invited me to cast my vote in a Citizen Initiated Referendum. I wondered what it was about.
Well, once I'd read the letter I have to admit to being amazed. The question that is of such huge importance that all Kiwi voters over the age of 18 worldwide have to give it their consideration is: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?" They're kidding?! Its a criminal offence? Apparently in my time away from NZ the law has been changed that indeed does make it a criminal offence and the referendum has come about due to the public reaction in NZ against the change.
Meanwhile, the drug problem in NZ is enormous, gangs run rampant with no fear of consequences, the NZ economy is stagnant, schools and hospitals are underfunded, the All Blacks are struggling and yet the government goes to the expense of asking every registered Kiwi voter in every far flung nook and cranny on the planet whether parents should be…what…arrested? fined? imprisoned? reprogrammed?….if they ever smack a child. Listen, if a 3 year old is about to stick a fork in a power point I'm not going sit them down and give them a "Now darling, I feel so disappointed when you do that…." speech, nor am I going to give them a scientific explanation of electricity and its negative effects on a small human body, instead, I'd give them a quick smack on the hand and a loud "No!" The child remembers that bolt of lightning (ask them, they do) and when the fork/power point situation next arises they think "Hmm, I remember what happened last time, so I'm not doing it again…." Apparently, the law in NZ as it stands, since the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act, would find me guilty of assaulting my child by slapping their hand, an action that would in breach of subsection 2 of the new Section 59 of the Crimes Act which states: "Nothing in subsection (1) or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction." A smack is referred to by Barnardos as an "inconsequential assault" but an assault nevertheless.
It is recognised that this referendum is a reaction to child abuse levels in New Zealand that are an indictment on any country that calls itself "civilised". The victims, children injured and all too often killed, whose suffering is detailed in a seemingly endless procession of gut wrenching court cases, cry out for action. But is making criminals out of ordinary parents who use smacking as an occasional form of discipline going to stop the suffering? Or is it the rationale that after 3 or 4 generations, smacking will be bred out of New Zealand's parenting practices?
EPOCH NZ, one of the groups which advocated the law change in NZ states: In the long term changing attitudes about the use of physical discipline is likely to play a part in efforts to reduce child abuse. Likely? While the supporters of the referendum have children's welfare at heart, does anyone really imagine that making smacking a crime would have deterred for the men who, amongst the other horrors inflicted on her, put 3 year old Nia Glassie in a clothes dryer and spun her at high heat (this case was even reported here in the UAE), or stayed the hands of those responsible for the deaths of the Kahui twins? Is the parent who smacks a child's hand or bottom to ensure s/he remembers not to run out on the road, not to put a fork in a power point or not to scrawl on the wallpaper really a criminal, the same as child killers? It seems some would say 'yes'.
If every registered voter is taking part in this referendum then there'll be many people voting who've never had children. Why should people without children tell parents how to deal with their kids? If you don't play the game, you shouldn't be making the rules. (Some of those who are currently childless probably think that smacking is inexcusable but there may well be a 180 degree change of attitude once they have their own children.)
What's the punishment for a smack? A fine? 'Counselling'? Prison? A child falls over and gets a bruise, how does the parent prove that the bruise wasn't the result of abuse? Can neighbours dob each other in? Will the sale of wooden spoons be banned?

Monday, 10 August 2009

Sunland claims Dubai developer sought $38m kickback

From The Australian 11 August 09
The Packer family-backed property company Sunland has claimed that a Melbourne developer and his old school mate from Geelong Grammar conspired to defraud the company in a complex transaction on the Dubai waterfront in 2007.
Documents filed yesterday in the Queensland registry of the Federal Court give details of a case involving Australians Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee, who were employed in 2007 on the Dubai Waterfront project, and Melbourne-based property developer Angus Reed, who went to Geelong Grammar with Mr Joyce.
The documents allege that Mr Joyce and Mr Reed, who were well-known to each other, failed to give any indication of this relationship to Sunland's representative in Dubai, David Brown, when he was negotiating to buy land in the Dubai Waterfront, then one of the world's most expensive projects.
The documents claim that Mr Joyce had told Mr Brown that Mr Reed had purchased a valuable piece of waterfront land and that Sunland had paid Mr Reed over $14 million for the right to buy the land, even though Mr Reed had never actually owned it or had rights to buy it.
They claim that in mid-2007 Mr Brown had asked Mr Joyce if there was any waterfront land left in Dubai, and a representative of Dubai Waterfront told him that an existing block was being reconfigured to create a new block, D17, which would have water views.
In August 2007, Mr Joyce allegedly told Mr Brown that Reed had already bought D17, and had secured it at $50 per square foot, well below the going rate in the area, which was around $57.
Mr Joyce gave Mr Brown the contact numbers of Mr Reed, who claimed that he was in the process of purchasing the land, but was willing to enter an agreement with Sunland to develop it.
Mr Brown allegedly received further phone calls from Joyce urging him to move quickly or the land could be purchased by "the Russians" for a considerably higher price. In September 2007, Mr Lee, a project manager at Dubai Waterfront, and lawyer Anthony Brearley from Dubai Waterfront, phoned Mr Brown to say they were concerned that "marketing people will sell plot D17 and we will have no control over this".
But Mr Reed and Sunland were unable to come to terms on purchasing the land, so Sunland offered to purchase Reed's company's rights to D17 for $6.5 million, plus the difference in property value for the area between the going rate and the price Reed was able to negotiate, a total of $14.3m.
But the documents also claim that in December of that year, Sunland's Mr Brown was told by officials from the Emirates audit office that Mr Reed had never purchased the property in question, and there had been no reason why Sunland could not have purchased the property in their own right.
The documents allege that if Mr Joyce and Mr Reed -- who failed to tell Mr Brown of their relationship -- had not made the representations, then Mr Brown would not have entered into negotiations with Mr Reed, and instead would have negotiated directly with Mr Joyce for the purchase of D17.
It also alleges that "Joyce and Reed both knew that their representations were false, or were reckless as to their truth or falsity".
Mr Reed has skipped the country and is in Melbourne, while Mr Joyce and Mr Lee, who is from Sydney, have both been kept in detention in Dubai for the past year.
Gold Coast-based Sunland has James Packer on the board, but has taken a beating in its Middle East property deals as the market has dived.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

The Torture Tapes: Case dismissed

The case brought by Bassam Nabulsi against Sheikh Issa has been dismissed in the US District Court in Houston. The expert witness on the subject of service of process in the UAE appearing for the Defendant (Sheikh Issa) was Dr Faraj A. Ahnish of Hadef and Partners a UAE law firm. While making no reference to the matter by name, the summary of Dr Ahnish's evidence is below, reproduced courtesy of H&P.
The Houston Court's opinion and order are here. The dismissal is being appealed.
Dr. Faraj A. Ahnish, Managing Partner of Hadef & Partners' Abu Dhabi office, recently acted as expert witness in respect of a civil claim filed by an individual against a UAE citizen (the Defendant). The claim was brought before the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division (the Court).
Pending before the Court was the Defendant’s motion praying that the claim be dismissed on, amongst other grounds ‘‘improper service’’ of notification of the Plaintiff’s Statement of Claim and excluding the expert witness statement and testimony prepared by a professor of law on the Plaintiff’s request.
The Court in its Memorandum Opinion and Order (in support of its judgment) allowed the Defendant’s motion for excluding the expert witness statement and testimony filed, by that expert, on behalf of the Plaintiff. The Court noted that:

he has no experience with or expertise in U.A.E. law. Moreover, the Plaintiff acknowledges that [his] “testimony on U.A.E. law essentially echoed the testimony of Defendant’s legal expert (that is, the deposition testimony of Dr. Faraj A. Ahnish).” Accordingly, the Defendant’s motion to exclude the testimony of Professor Khan will be granted”.
The Court then went on to consider the Defendant’s motion to dismiss the claim for improper services. The Court cited the governing rule under US law on this subject. It acknowledged that the US relevant federal rule of Civil Procedure authorises the court to dismiss a case for “insufficient service of process”. It stated that due process under the United States Constitution requires that:

before a court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant, there must be more than notice to the defendant and a constitutionally sufficient relationship between the defendant and the forum. There also must be a basis for the defendant’s amenability to service of summons. Absent consent, this means there must be authorization for service of summons on the defendant.”

The Court then cited US federal rules on service of process on individuals located in a foreign country. Next, the Court considered the facts and circumstances relating to the purported service of process on the Defendant by a professional process serving company based in the US.

The facts relating to the purported service process were carefully analysed in Dr. Ahnish’s expert Witness Statement and the conclusion arrived at was that under the relevant provisions of UAE law, the service purported to have been effected on the Defendant would not be regarded as proper or sufficient service of a civil Statement of Claim. The conclusion arrived at in Dr. Ahnish’s Witness Statement was based on careful examination of the provisions of UAE law on service of court process.

The Court upheld the opinion of Dr. Ahnish’s opinion in its entirety in respect of service of process under UAE law. The Court stated:

“Citing the Expert Witness Statement of Dr. Faraj Abdullah Ahnish, the (Defendant) argues that the method used to serve him is not prescribed by the laws of the U.A.E. Ahnish has identified two reasons why the service officer’s service attempt was not sufficient under U.A.E. law: (1) The service officer was not authorized to serve process under U.A.E. law, and (2) [the service officer] did not provide documentation of service.
(1) Authorization to Serve Process in U.A.E.
Citing Article 5 of Federal Law No. 11, Ahnish states that process may be served in the U.A.E. by either (1) a summons clerk who is appointed and trained by the relevant governmental authorities, or (2) a private process server who works for a company authorized by the government of the U.A.E. to serve process.
Ahnish states that: “having reviewed the process adopted by the service officer in the current case vis-√†-vis the provisions of the Civil Procedures Law, it is my view that the service of process as described by the service officer is fundamentally defective to the extent that it “defeats the purpose of the process” on the following accounts:
a) It was effected by a private person who under the Civil Procedures Law does not qualify as a summoner or a notification clerk. The service officer is not an employee of a U.A.E. company or a branch of a foreign company established in U.A.E. for the purpose of providing summons processing services;
b) The service officer does not obviously have any outsourcing contract or similar arrangement with the U.A.E. Ministry of Justice for providing summons processing services. . . .”

The Court went on to observe:

“Without disputing that neither [the service officer] nor his company have been authorized to serve process in the U.A.E., plaintiffs argue that common sense should override the requirements of U.A.E. law so long as [the service officer] used the “general methods of service available in the country of service.” As evidence that the Defendant was served in accordance with the “general methods of service available” in the U.A.E., plaintiffs cite Ahnish’s deposition testimony that the U.A.E. does not have any law that specifically prohibits service of suits from outside the country, and that service effected through an agent and service effected by leaving documents with a person at a place of business are allowed.”
The Court reached the conclusion that:

“the only credible evidence as to whether [the service provider’s] service attempt was made in a manner prescribed by U.A.E. law is the expert testimony of Ahnish.”
The Court further observed:

“Citing Article 7 of the Civil Procedures Law of the U.A.E., Ahnish contends that the service provider failed to provide a “notification document” required under U.A.E. law for service of process. According to Ahnish the required elements of a “notification document” include (1) the date and time of notification; (2) information about the party requesting service; (3) information about the party being served; (4) information about the “Notification Officer;” (5) the subject of the notification; and (6) the “full name of the person to whom notice is delivered and his signature, seal, or thumb print on the original [notification document] to acknowledge receipt or indicate refusal and the reason for such refusal.”

The Court then ruled that the above conclusions provide a sufficient basis for dismissing the claim for lack of jurisdiction without having to consider other motions for dismissal as brought by the Defendant.

Dubai malls join anti-indecency campaign

Further to the publication earlier this year of the Dubai Code of Conduct, the Gulf News in Dubai has given more front page space to informing/warning expats both residents and tourists to dress appropriately in public.
The dress code seems to have become a "hot button" and while residents may read the article, in reality the
Gulf News is a regional publication that few tourists will read prior to coming here. If it is considered important to warn tourists to comply, then other methods of spreading the word will need to be employed. It would seem that further information needs to be given to the short stay tourists who are coming here for a holiday looking for nothing more than sun, beach, a desert safari and shopping, as compliance with a moral code will be far from their minds. Possibly a warning should be printed in every tourist brochure where the UAE is featured and an information brochure provided when the tourist visa is issued. It does seem unfair to put the responsibility for enforcing the code onto the security staff at the malls.
Source: Gulf News
Dubai's shopping malls don't just combine the awesome collections of international brand labels, but go further to enlighten newcomers on Emirati cultural rules and what's the acceptable general behaviour.
The rules are on signs at the main entrances and distributed by security personnel as well.
It includes no smoking in the mall, wearing of respectable clothing and no kissing or public displays of affection, no consumption of alcohol in the mall and few other don'ts.
Sabina Khanvwani, Head of Public Relations and Marketing Department at Burjuman Centre, said despite the signs, there are still visitors who still need to be reminded of what is and what is not acceptable.
"Burjuman has already fixed stickers on the main entrances in order to deliver the message directly to them, some of them adhere and others don't. We cannot enforce them to comply but we keep reminding them that Dubai is part of the UAE and it's a Muslim country with a conservative society and must be respected."
Most expatriates Gulf News spoke to say they didn't do things on purpose or to annoy the Emirati community. They just grew up dressing that way.
Tania N. a 29-year-old Russian businesswoman, said she got confused when a security guard at the Mall of the Emirates handed her a brochure on how to dress appropriately.
"I respect Dubai, its religion, culture and people, I come here frequently for business and pleasure, and I was never asked to cover my shoulders or my knees until recently," she said.
"I used to wear a sleeveless short gown or miniskirt and according to my background it is a decent outfit and doesn't cause any kind of embarrassment. But lately a security approached me and in a polite way handed me a brochure that includes the mall's courtesy policy regarding dress code and general behaviour."
Asked whether she will adhere to the mall's dress code, she said: "I really don't find it necessary, besides I don't have long or covered outfits, and the most importantly I didn't do something bad to Dubai or its people."
Katayoon Tahmoress M, an Iranian writer based in Dubai agrees with Tania.
"I love Dubai and I like its style. But the way I dress is completely a personal matter and I don't allow anybody to educate me on what to wear and what not to wear."
Gabriel and Elena, both Americans, said the visitors and expatriates should've been informed of the dress and behavioural rules before they fly into the country.
"Such instructions should be informed before we enter the country not while we are shopping. Besides the weather in Dubai is truly hot," they said.
Mariam Al Salem and her Emirati companions said visitors and expatriates should tow the line.
"Our rules must be strictly followed," Mariam said.
Khulood Ahmad, a 23-year-old Emirati and a college student said the situation has become uncontrollable.
"Majority of shoppers don't adhere to our style's policy, and we don't think a sticker or leaflet will make them pay attention," he said.
Khalid Al Hammadi and his friends Nawaf and Majed, all of them Emiratis, said an aggresssive media campaign should be launched to deliver the message.
Najla Al Awadi, Federal National Council member, Deputy CEO of Dubai Media Inc and General Manager of Dubai One TV, said awareness of the rules should be done as early as while a visitor is processing his entry visa.
"I don't want to generalise and say that all expats behave in that inappropriate way. However, certainly many expats who come to our country are either not aware of our cultural norms or are just not respectful of them and choose to behave any way they want to.
"I believe what we need is to create awareness among all communities visiting our county. This should be done upon going through the visa process possibly by distributing pamphlets which explain our culture to those receiving a visa into our country.
"Also through media by launching programmes and regular campaigns, we as the UAE will always be welcoming and tolerant society but we will also demand that our culture be respected," she said.
Are you aware of the dress code in Dubai? Do you know who to speak to in order to clarify your doubts?

Friday, 7 August 2009

Modern day Mata Hari snatched from Dubai

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 8 August 09
While Australians languished in Dubai jails, a much bigger fish made fraudulent millions with impunity. This glamorous but treacherous spy is finally behind bars, writes Rick Feneley.
They call her the modern-day Mata Hari, a spy-turned-criminal who laundered fortunes from drug runners and arms dealers through Dubai's high-rise wonderland. Alternatively, they have cast Malika Karoum as an innocent woman, a fugitive not from the law but from an abusive husband who maliciously defamed her - and concocted the whole spy-crime thriller - as part of a bitter custody battle for their young son.
The Netherlands media have been wrestling over the two Karoums for a year. The 33-year-old Dutch-Moroccan's exotic good looks made great fodder for magazines, newspapers and tabloid television. But on Wednesday this week came the bombshell. The cover story of Revu, a quality weekly magazine, announced: ''Spy Malika in the cell.''
Only now could it reveal that Karoum had been in jail for the past six months in Egypt, where the Ismailiya State Security Court convicted her in April of money laundering and involvement in weapons trading, but acquitted her of espionage.
Karoum, who had also performed intelligence work for Egypt, had been sentenced to 28 months in prison, and the Court of Appeal had upheld the decision last month.
More sensational, though, is the news of how Karoum was caught. In a top-secret operation, her former colleagues from the Dutch secret service arrived at her Dubai apartment at 2am on January 21. They held her there for several weeks under house arrest before taking her to Egypt, an intelligence source has told Revu's reporter Jan Libbenga. Dubai has no extradition treaty with the Netherlands. The Dutch, in effect, abducted Karoum only after negotiations with her lawyers, to bring her back to Amsterdam, broke down.
Four days after the swoop on Karoum's home, Dubai police arrested two Australians, Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee, on suspicion of fraud. The pair are former executives of Dubai Waterfront, the world's grandest waterfront project, a subsidiary of the Emirate's biggest property developer, the government-owned Nakheel.
The jailed Australians, who are fighting to prove their innocence, are in no way linked to Karoum. Karoum - using her apparent cover as a real estate executive - did do some work on property developments within Dubai Waterfront, among other sites. She was accused of funnelling drug and arms money - including that of an Egyptian weapons dealer - into Dubai's property bubble, which burst spectacularly last year. Millions invested through her by criminal networks are said to have vanished.
While Joyce and Lee and other Australians languish in Dubai's jails, the Karoum story throws light on the way business is done in the Emirate. The sheikhdom is making a big show of cleaning up corruption in its property industry, but it showed no apparent interest in stopping Karoum. Indeed, Libbenga says, she ended up spying for the United Arab Emirates, too, and it offered her protection. She had also spied for Egypt.
Her old Dutch colleagues could well understand the analogy with the original Mata Hari, the Dutch exotic dancer Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, a seductress who became a double agent during World War I, working for both French and German spymasters.
Karoum joined the Dutch secret service in 2004, Revu says. Most of her work had concerned secret investigations of Islamic organisations in the Netherlands suspected of terrorist aid. She was sent to Dubai late in 2006 to investigate terrorist financing and money laundering to and from Dubai. Once there, she soon defected to her own cause: making money.
For her Dutch spymasters, the alarm rang in October 2007, when a Dutch-Turkish money courier was arrested at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, with more than €100,000. He said it was to be collected by Karoum. This man was not known to her spy colleagues.
The secret service contacted police. It transpired that observation teams from the Bureau of National Research had photographs of a woman in the company of Dutch drug dealers. Only then did they realise it was Karoum.
Now authorities suspect Karoum played an important role in drug trafficking, Revu reported.
Karoum had managed to slip back into the Netherlands at the time of the man's arrest, but she escaped via Madrid and Casablanca to Dubai. She left her hire car behind, with a note to the hire company, in a garage in the town of Breukelen. Diplomatic pressure on Dubai failed to have her returned to the Netherlands.
The Herald began trying to find Karoum in early February this year. As late as April our calls were being transferred to her extension at ACI Real Estate in Dubai, the subsidiary of a German-based company. Like many caught in the Arab Emirate's collapsing real estate market, ACI is struggling to complete grand visions such as its Sports Trilogy: the Niki Lauda Twin Towers, the Boris Becker Business Tower and Michael Schumacher Business Avenue. ACI's switch repeatedly told the Herald that Karoum was, indeed, still working there. But messages went unanswered, as did emails to Karoum's address with the firm, requesting a detailed response to the many allegations against her. Now we know why.
Also in February, Political News of Morocco editorialised that Karoum was giving its emigrants a bad name and asked why Dubai was doing nothing about her. Now we know that the Dutch secret service already had.
In a webcast by Panorama Magazine late last year, Karoum said the whole story against her was a lie, created by her former husband Mohammed Boulnouar. She said she had fled the Netherlands because he had mentally and physically abused her.
Jacques Smits, an Amsterdam private investigator and former policeman, has been on Karoum's trail since January last year. He was originally employed by Boulnouar to hunt her down in Dubai and retrieve their son, Mohammed jnr, now aged about eight.
In February last year Smits flew to Dubai, hoping to confront Karoum. He had already intervened and warned her then employer, the Dubai property firm Omniyat, about Karoum. The company went on to sack Karoum and her boss for alleged fraud.
Smits only managed to get Karoum by phone. He told the Herald: ''She said, 'I am going to kill you.' I had ruined her life in Dubai.''
He believes she is capable of it, and this motivated his campaign to bring her to justice, long after he stopped working for her husband. A Dutch court later ordered Karoum to return her son to the Netherlands, then overturned that ruling last December.
Either way, Smits is no friend of Boulnouar, who had been a travel agent in West Amsterdam. He says Boulnouar paid him only €7000 ($12,000) and still owes him €10,000. Smits says he helped Dutch intelligence to keep pursuing Karoum.
Last November customers accused Boulnouar of stealing the money they had paid him for the haj to Mecca. He had claimed he was the victim of a robbery on October 31 when he tried to deliver about €300,000 in cash and several hundred passports to Royal Jordanian Airways. He claimed the robbers told him they were sent by ''Malika''.
Smits does not buy his story. Nor does he buy Karoum's. In January last year Smits received a tip that she was returning to the Netherlands for a wedding. He says he went to Schiphol Airport and, armed with photographs, alerted a Dutch military police officer. The officer had called up Karoum's Interpol file, then left the room briefly to get the print-out of the document. Smits says he was able to read the warrant on the screen. ''There were six or seven felonies.'' They included money laundering and drug offences.
Dutch police observation teams had seen a woman in the company of a British man, Simon John ''Slapper'' Cowmeadow. Only later did they realise she was Karoum. Cowmeadow was shot dead in an Amsterdam street on November 18, 2007.
Nadim Imac, a suspected heroin importer and the sponsor of a Dutch soccer team, Turkiyemspor, was thrown to his death from a moving bus on February 17 this year. Police found €223,000 in his home.
A player from his soccer team had acted as a money courier to Dubai, where money from a Turk associate of Imac's was invested in Damac Properties. Karoum had handled that introduction.
Revu has reported on Karoum's connections with the Dutch company Palm Invest, which has come under the spotlight for alleged fraud. Karoum's old boss at Omniyat took her with him in June last year when he launched Define Properties in Dubai. Define had 12 lots on Nakheel's Waterfront site, and relied heavily for funds on a key Karoum contact, an Egyptian arms dealer. But when stories began circulating about Karoum, the boss sacked her.
Later, Define could not raise enough capital and ACI Real Estate took over some of its properties. It first employed the Define boss, but dumped him after recruiting Karoum. ACI has not responded to the Herald's questions.
From last December Karoum's lawyers advised her to co-operate with Dutch authorities. Revu reported she was offered an ''ample golden handshake'' from the secret service and an opportunity to start a new life in a third country. Los Angeles, Singapore, Luxembourg, Malta, Egypt and the Dutch Antilles were destinations recommended.
The Dutch, more than anything, wanted to stop her giving intelligence to other countries, and to stop her criminal pursuits.
Karoum had seemed agreeable but withdrew at the last moment. She reportedly believed she would be afforded the protection of sheikhs in Dubai. That came to nothing at 2am on January 21.
In most countries the snatching of Karoum - a breach of sovereignty - would have caused a diplomatic crisis. But there has not been a peep out of Dubai, which does not care about bad publicity.
The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it could not answer any of the Herald's questions, on privacy grounds. The names of even convicted criminals are protected in the Netherlands.
Jan Libbenga will publish a book, The Hunt for Malika, Modern Mata Hari, in October.
Jacques Smits says an estimated €19 million is still missing from Karoum's crimes and the Dutch secret service may recruit him to help retrieve it.
''If the price is right, I'm your guy,'' he told the Herald. Smits says he feels safe until Karoum's release from jail - but only until then.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Preparing for Ramadan in Dubai

Ramadan '09 is expected to commence around 21 or 22 August. For followers of Islam, this is a month of fasting, prayer and reflection. Discretion is exercised as to who fasts; the expectation is that all Muslims will fast with the exception of young children (the very broad cut-off point is about 12 years old/puberty), the sick and elderly, the insane, travellers, pregnant or nursing women, and those who are fighting in battle. Just being elderly is considered insufficient reason not to fast but being elderly and sick is; some pregnant women fast, some don’t; some young children want to participate with their older siblings and will be allowed to fast for part of each day or maybe one full day each week; faced with the challenges of changing time zones some Muslims who are required to travel regularly over Ramadan give to charity during the holy month and then complete the 30 days of fasting later in the year.
For expats and visitors to the UAE, the most noticeable change during the month of Ramadan is that eating, drinking or smoking in public is forbidden, including in your car. The food courts in the malls are closed during daylight hours but reopen after evening prayer and remain open until late. (The local Maccas near Spinneys in Bur Dubai stays open until 3am!) Some restaurants are open during the day but cover their windows with curtains or sheets of newspaper so diners can't be seen from the street. Hotels still offer dining facilities to guests but its limited to areas that are hidden from public view or room service. There is no background music at all in many malls during Ramadan while in others recitations from the Qur'an are played over the PA. In the gym there's no background music or videos shown and if you need a drink of water while you're working out, you go into the change rooms and take it discretely.
Nightclubs are closed for the month as are all the alcohol outlets including Barracuda and The Hole in the Wall. Supermarkets are unaffected and last year lolly barrows in the malls were still open but purchases can’t be eaten in public.
For Muslims who are fasting, the day begins with an early meal called suhour which, depending on prayer time, may be as early as 4am. This is followed by the early morning prayer (Fajr). The faithful fast during daylight hours each day of the month. The fast is broken each evening at sundown. In the early days of Islam one of the Fatimid caliphs decreed that the end of the day's fasting should be announced by the firing of a cannon which could be heard all over the local area. The cannon was introduced to Dubai during the rule of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum (1912-1958) to regulate the timing of the call for iftar. To keep the tradition alive, each year the Dubai Police have placed cannons in Al Musalla, Al Ras, Karama Musalla and Al Safa Park which are
fired every evening to announce iftar. There are differences within the Emirates; while Sharjah also uses the cannons and had 10 in use in 2008, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi has never introduced the practice. People gather to watch the cannons firing before going to the mosque for the Maghrib (evening) prayer.
The day's fast is broken initially with something light, often exactly seven dates as was the practice of The Prophet (pbuh) along with some laban (drinking yoghurt). The evening prayer is followed by a meal called iftar. Across the Muslim world iftar, which is served as a buffet, is the opportunity for families, neighbours and friends to get together, enjoy the meal, play board games or just relax and chat. In homes, hotels and restaurants iftar has also become an important social event for expats. Many hotels construct special “iftar tents” (or “Ramadan tents”) where customers can get a feel for the tradition of community. Each evening during Ramadan the tents fill with families, friends and workmates both Muslim and non-Muslim enjoying the iftar meal together. Many businesses hold iftars for clients and news of which hotels are giving the season's best iftars circulates quickly. While loud music is banned during Ramadan, many iftar tents have an oud player quietly playing classic Arabic music in the background.
During Ramadan, by law, working hours in the UAE are reduced to 6 hours a day whether the employee is Muslim or not.
This article from the
Gulf News gives advice on the healthy approach to fasting.
A dietician advises those fasting during Ramadan to eat a breakfast high in fibre during the pre-dawn suhour so that it will stay in the stomach for longer and hunger pangs will be delayed.
Foods from each of the five food groups should be eaten during suhour, said Dr Anjali Bange, dietician at Welcare Hospital. "It should leave you feeling satisfied," she said.
Bran flakes or whole meal bread are a good source of fibre. Fibre digests slowly, taking up to eight hours, while other foods may be digested in just three to four hours. Other sources of fibre include vegetables such as green peas, spinach, marrow, fruit with skin and dried fruit such as apricots, figs and prunes as well as almonds.
The dietician also warned that those who will be fasting should eat in moderation, rather than stuffing themselves because they know they will be going hungry for between eight to 10 hours during the daylight hours of the fast.
Besides the religious significance of fasting during Ramadan, abstaining from food helps detoxify the body, Anjali said.
"It helps in improving your immunity. Your skin looks better and you feel more energetic as the digestive system cleans up," she explained.
Fasting also helps to develop willpower and stave off a number of ailments, such as chronic stomach ache, inflammation of the colon, obesity and high blood pressure.
People are generally recommended to drink about eight to 10 glasses of water every day, and when you are fasting you should try to drink a further two glasses, the dietician said. This can be done by drinking tea and fruit juices or eating soups or fruit with a high water content, such as watermelon.
However, doctors warn that tea makes you pass more urine, stripping the body of mineral salts that are needed during the day.
Those ending their fast during iftar are advised to take it easy and not to eat the wrong types of foods.
"People should try not to eat large quantities of fried foods, such as samosas and fried chicken," Anjali said.
According to Islamic injunctions, the suhour and iftar must be observed to avoid prolonged fasting that might harm the bodies of those observing Ramadan.
Healthy tips
What you should do - Eat high-fibre foods during suhour - vegetables such as green peas, spinach and marrow, fruits with skin and dried fruit such as apricots, figs and prunes, as well as nuts. - Drink up to 12 glasses of water a day. This can also be achieved by drinking fruit juices, consuming soup or by eating fruit with a high water content (e.g. watermelon).- Eat foods from the five food groups.
What you should not do - Drink too much tea during suhour. Tea makes you pass more urine, stripping the body of mineral salts that are needed during the day. - Eat too much fast food at iftar, such as samosas or fried chicken. - Over-eat when ending the fast.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The accent is on the Kiwi.

Most Kiwis get used to being teased about the way we say "fish and chips" or the number "six". This is a fascinating article on the development and future of the New Zealand accent.
Source: NZ Listener February 28-March 6 2009 Vol 217 No 3590
Mincing words by Jane Clifton
John Key is just one Kiwi who cops flak for his diction. Linguists say changes to our accent are the result of complex influences. But some people blame lazy “duction” for making us sound ignorant – even incomprehensible.
I’m losing my Ls. And I’m not the only one. After all those years of joking about sending emergency airdrops of vowels to the Balkans, we will soon be a bit in-consonant on this side of the world.
Our Ls just fall off the end. They’re fastened on well enough at the beginning of a word, so we can say lion and literature and liquor okay. But they just can’t seem to hang on if they’re on the back of a word like brittle (brittoow) or rival (rivoow) or punctual (puncshoow). Even in the middle, a poor L can get trampled. I’ve probably said “choowdren” and “mook” all my life. No wonder they phased out free moowk in skoows.
We’re also losing our faith in Ts and Rs. For some reason, the TR sound is not enough for us. So we’re sticking SH onto a growing number of TR words. Aush-tralia. Sh-trong. Sh-tructural. Or CH: chrue (true), chriffic (terrific), chruck (truck).
Conversely, we like to economise on vowels. It’s been many decades since air and ear were pronounced differently in this country. And there is no cat, hat or mat “A” sound. It’s ket, het and met.
Is this the end of the world? Hardly. Actually, it makes us unique. Our linguistic scholars celebrate the special features of the New Zealand accent, which are multiplying every decade. The constant SHTR-ing of our new Prime Minister positively made their year.
Why, then, are so many of us uneasy about the way we speak? Letter writers to newspapers regularly upbraid John Key for his diction. Australians complained about Kiwi teachers’ accents when their children came home under the impression that the famous Christmas carol was called Dick the Horse. Wherever you go, people have strong opinions about what they regard as sloppy speech, particularly in the broadcast media, and by public figures.
I used to worry that I was a bit of a closet Anglophile snob to fret about our accent (icceent). But since I appeared last year on TV1’s Sunday to express my dinosaur anxieties, people from all over the place have moaned to me about the way we speak. And the way they themselves speak.
I was invited onto the programme because the reporter and researchers could not find any academic on either side of the Tasman to give an opinion on the direction of the New Zealand accent, so they had to make do with a gobby columnist. But I struck a chord, at least among the linguistically uneducated.
People have typically said to me that we are lazy speakers, or that we sound ignorant or infantile, or that some of us are utterly unintelligible.
All these are, of course, value judgments. And the problem with getting to the bottom of the rights and wrongs of the New Zealand accent is, how do you test value judgments? The overriding purpose of spoken language is communication. If we’re understanding one another, what’s the problem?
And even if we’re not … Goodness, the UK has numerous regional dialects, many of them tricky for fellow English speakers to understand: Brummie, Cornish, Glaswegian, Northern Irish, Cockney can all defeat comprehension, to the point where some English movies have to be subtitled for release in the US. And there, too, where they’ve had a couple more hundred years than us to develop baffling regional styles, an English speaker can struggle, especially in the South.
A lot of our unease probably comes down to aesthetics. We can enjoy a quirky Cockney or Brummie speaker, even an ocker Aussie accent. It’s a dag. But our own fails to charm – or at least to charm some of us wot speak it. It’s totally a matter of taste.
But there’s obviously more going on from brain to mouth than whether our words sound “nice” or whether we’re easy on the ear. It’s hard to sustain the argument that we’re lazy speakers when we go to so much extra trouble to mispronounce words: show-wen (shown), anythink, says (not sez), mo-wah (more).
If anything, we may be trying too hard – not just in our pronunciation, but also in the way we’re using our words. Overseas visitors can’t get over our habit of saying, “Yes, no-no-no, yes, no, yes!” (and variations) as an affirmation, and “Good-good!” when asked how we are. “Is” in New Zealand always travels in pairs, “The thing is, is … ”; “The problem is, is … ”
My unease about the way we’re speaking is twofold. First, are we understanding each other as clearly as we could be? Linguistic studies have been done to tell us the degree to which we judge one another by the way we speak. (And we do.) But it would be useful to see studies on whether our morphing vowels and consonants are causing confusion. People often misunderstand what I’m saying because of my vowel degeneration, and vice versa, especially on the phone. Linguists tell us our front vowels are continuing to change, so the room for confusion can surely only grow.
Second, I’d love to know why we’re speaking the way we are. Why are we truncating some areas of distinction – vowels, for instance, and terminal L sounds? And why are we elaborating others – our habit of stressing extra syllables, and even inserting them?
Linguists can tell us much about the influences on our speech, especially those of the Maori and Polynesian. But I suspect there’s a psychological thread to our morphing pronunciation, and that’s what makes me so curious.
This first occurred to me when I started noticing how we sound when we talk to small children and animals. Unless we’re really self-conscious or self-possessed, we adopt a more childlike mode of speech. Obviously, we want to sound unthreatening, and so we talk to them the way we think they would talk, if they could talk, as though they’re vulnerable and less intelligent than we are. Which, brutally (well, hopefully), is true.
When I’m talking to babies and pets, the net effect – aside from my voice rising an octave or two – is that my New Zealand accent broadens. “Would you loik some mo-wah bus-kut?/Who’s a noice widdow pussyket?/Come on liddow bee-yar [bear], leet’s geet you in the car-car!”
Yes, I’m talking nonsense. But I could equally be on the phone interviewing Helen Clark about her new job prospects: “Uht sounds loik you’ve got to geet a widdow mo-wah suppor-wat fo-wah your-wah Yoo Een campaign.”
I’m sure Helen would understand me if I addressed her in the same way I address my dogs or my friend’s new baby. But why is the New Zealand accent so similar – identical, I would argue – to this infantilised way of speech?
The psychology bears study. My pop theory is that it’s to do with being a small, economically vulnerable nation. Perhaps we subconsciously aim to sound as unthreatening as possible so bigger countries won’t aggress us. “Plays don’ hut may!” (please don’t hit me) – we want to sound endearing and childlike, as a sort of passive-defensive stance.
Brainier people than me – those who have been to university – will probably say this is tosh. But until there’s a study involving sociologists and psychologists as well as linguistics experts, I’ll be left wondering.
Even if we are deliberately infantilising our speech, does it matter? Might it be handy if people overseas find us cute and endearing?
I hate to bring money into this, but there is a global image that goes with an accent – a stereotype, sure, but one handy for marketing. A Cockney is sly, spry and merry; an Irish speaker is convivial, poetic and a free spirit; an Australian is sunny, confident and direct. These are all good branding marks. Is endearing and childlike as good, as remunerative an image for us?
Do other English speakers even see the way we speak as childlike?
Who knows. But it sure is complicated.
Recommended reading for anyone interested in New Zild are the writings of Elizabeth Gordon, adjunct professor of linguistics at Canterbury University – our go-to person on the way we speak.
Like other linguists, she rejoices in the changes and surprises of our accent’s development, but strives to be non-judgmental. In a recent book, she made this concession: “I must say clearly and loudly that I strongly support the teaching of standard English in schools. As a university teacher, I have made more than my fair share of corrections in student essays. A child who is not even given the opportunity to learn standard English would be shamefully disadvantaged.”
But, she adds rather more controversially, “This still doesn’t mean that standard English is intrinsically or aesthetically better than any other variety of English.”
Love it or hate it, there are many myths about the way we speak, and Gordon and other linguists tell us one of the biggest, fattest lies is that we’re lazy.
It’s the old keeping-the-mouth-closed-to-shut-out-the-flies theory. We don’t.
Actually, the evidence points firmly in the other direction. We go to much more trouble to pronounce English our way. It takes more effort to say “anythink” than “anything”. (And linguists reckon “anythink” and “somethink” will soon become orthodox, dictionary-recognised versions of the -thing words, owing to the sheer force of common usage.)
And there are those doubled-up vowel sounds. The most obvious are the shown/known/blown family, which many of us render as blow-wen, show-wen and know-wen.
More subtly is what we do to the “now” and “hour” sound. Fleour (flour), teown (town) or, the example in Gordon’s book: “Heyow neyow breyon ke-ow.”
Again, these habits are not new. Gordon documents Otago school inspectors complaining in 1919 about “hae-ow” (how) and “haome” (home). A Nelson College principal in 1912 worried about “toime” (time) and “Dys By” for Days Bay.
These are different vowel sounds from those of standard English – but they’re no easier to form in the mouth.
Also giving the lie to the laziness criticism is our habit of over-pronouncing words – sounding out vowels that are normally unstressed. We have By-ron Kelliher and Guy-yon Espiner’s Christian names rhymed with “nylon,” both syllables stressed. It’s easier to pronounce them “correctly,” as BYrin and GUYin, but we go to extra trouble. Similarly, it’s Dennis Water-Man rather than Watermin, Gis-bourne for Gisbin (although there’s a historic argument about the latter).
It’s a miracle we don’t say Blen-Hyme and Auck-Land.
Then there’s the definite article. English has long granted us a thing called the schwa – permission to snip off the sound of something, if the syllable next to it makes it cumbersome to pronounce. So, we can say thee orange, rather than thuh orange, thee aircraft rather than thuh aircraft. But we’d rather do it the hard way. Increasingly, Kiwis go to the trouble of saying thuh before these vowels. This could have to do with the absence of schwa in Polynesian languages. And it could be plain ignorance. It certainly sounds ignorant to some ears. But it certainly doesn’t seem to indicate laziness.
So, although “anyfink” and By-ron may drive some of us nuts, Gordon’s view is that they have survived for so many generations, “you might say that they are very persistent little lower-class treasures”.
People have hazarded that there is a big “lower-class” Cockney influence on our speech, but Gordon says there was not a particularly large Cockney settlement here in colonial times, and in any case, Cockney was widely disliked, and hardly the direction a new society would deliberately choose.
One inarguable facet of New Zealand English – or, rather, a facet it seems increasingly to lack – is as a marker of socio-economic standing. The new PM says “anythink” and “Aush-tralia”, the previous PM said “to die” rather than “today”, and our top company executives – Theresa Gattung, Rob Fyfe – speak with broad, flat New Zild vowels, as do some powerful mayors – Kerry Prendergast, Tim Shadbolt – and no one has ever held it against them.
This is a nice thing about New Zealand. We will never be like the England lamented in the old My Fair Lady song – the minute an Englishman opens his mouth, another Englishman despises him. The woman running the corner dairy might sound exactly the same as the one running Telecom.
Still, there is some prejudice. A linguistic experiment found that people did judge broader-accented speakers in a rather disapproving way – guessing that a young woman speaker was a prostitute or solo mother, for instance.
However, it’s equally possible that in today’s New Zealand, the prejudice is more likely to go the other way …
It may be an equivalent sin to speaking uni-vowel New Zild, to cleave to the haute vowel sounds of upper-class England – particularly if it doesn’t sound as though one has come by one’s plummy accent honestly. And even if one has. “Ngatarawa Old Girls” has become a byword for an unnecessarily genteel accent – a nod to that school’s tradition of turning out gels who speak cut-crystal Received Pronunciation (RP: think 1950s BBC). Ngatarawa old girl Judy Bailey may be one of an endangered species. Speaking sparkling RP may not be a handicap in life, but it is apt to be mocked. TV promotions by NZ House & Garden editor Michal McKay have attracted bemused comment, for the extrusion even of the sound of her own name: May-kul McKaiiiiy.
Just as people pick up – or unconsciously affect – broadened vowels, so they acquire rounded ones. Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger, a compulsive but unconscious mimic, regularly affected different accents, to much hilarity. The frequent, well-meaning suggestions that John Key take elocution lessons are unlikely to be taken up, as it would seem like putting on the dog.
Again, this is not new. As Gordon recounts, the writer ARD Fairburn scorned a variety of “colonial genteel”, meaning a faux plumminess that tried hard but did not fool. A literary editor last century spoke of “ay fever”. “The ‘ay’ is a deliberate affectation that marks the incurable snob.” He singled out the self-consciously “awf’lly English” Cantabrians, and “lady principals of secondary schools” who were “oddly conscious of their natural superiority and so keep ‘ay’-ing for all they’re worth.”
He noted a “distressful Papanui affectation” when a woman told him her phone number was “nayne-nayne-fayve”.
Is this any less silly, or any easier on the ear, than noin-noin-foive? We’ll probably never get to the bottom of …
Gordon says the sociolinguistic premise is that judgments are made about the various ways in which we speak, not because of any internal communication features of the language itself, but for social reasons. People apply stereotypical criteria to their views of what sounds ugly and what sounds beautiful.
I plead guilty. I heard actor David McPhail speak about Shakespeare on the radio late last year, and I thought it was like melting brown sugar. I heard political activist Laila Harré, with her super-slow power drawl and pancake vowels, and had to steel myself to sit through her commentary, even though it was excellent.
That’s the trouble with this branch of academia. Linguists may shy from value judgments, but the public doesn’t. We think a rose is pretty, a strawberry tastes nice, dog pooh is gross and concrete ugly. There are many other important things to consider about each of these items, but, dammit, that’s what we think.
It’s a little like the graffiti debate. Polls suggest most people think graffiti ugly and a social affront, but a small number of academics champion it, along with the people for whom it is a vital means of expression. And it is a valuable means of expression for them – for causing a social affront is a perfectly valid (if not legal) part of that expression. But you can argue till you’re blue in the face that graffiti is art, and every bit as valuable as a Rita Angus or a Grahame Sydney, but most punters just won’t buy it.
It’s laudable that academics flee from value judgments as from bubonic plague. But, as linguists acknowledge in their writings, many people do, always have and always will bemoan the gulf between the mellifluous and the hard-on-the-ear.
My argument is that attainment and preservation of good New Zealand English is not a snobby pursuit that harks back to the Empire (Empah!) and BBC English. We don’t sound like that, and we don’t want to sound like that. We are not British. But we do speak English, and our spoken style, New Zealand English, should be a matter of pride, quite as much as is the Maori language.
The Maori renaissance is something of which only a churl or racist could fail to be proud. We have saved a dying tongue. It is now part of the fabric of our lives and we treasure it. Maori is not pickled in aspic, but certain rules surrounding vowels and stress are adhered to. Yes, there is a difference between formal, ancient usage and modern general usage, but you couldn’t describe it as a dumbing down. We are taught to speak Maori with a proper Maori accent, even though this is difficult to get Pakeha tongues around, and we might be a bit self-conscious about the slightly rolled Rs and the orotund vowels.
We did it the hard way. It wasn’t accepted, in the early days of the public campaign, to pronounce Maori properly, when Pakeha complained that “tow-poh” and “why-rowah” were easier to say than Taupo and Wairoa. This approach has worked. Two or three decades on, it jars when you occasionally hear “Tow He-nah-ree” for Tau Henare, as well it should. We have all learnt to respect and enjoy the sound of Maori pronounced correctly. Who would quarrel with the value judgment that Maori properly pronounced sounds more beautiful than the lazy, anglicised old versions? Maybe a linguist, but hardly anybody else.
And so it is with NZE. There is a confident, clear, self-assertive brand of NZE that, though spoken in a great variety of tones, and often with morphed vowel sounds and eccentricities, is something to be proud of. It’s clear, it’s direct, and it doesn’t sound wheedly or juvenile.
Given my professional preoccupation, it’s easiest for me to give examples from my neck of the woods: NZE as spoken by Kathryn Ryan and Sean Plunket on RNZ National; Helen Clark (notwithstanding “to die”) could hardly sound more authoritative, yet she’s extremely broad; Bill English, for all his Southlandic bray, is a clear and compelling speaker; Jim Anderton (good quality, though he’s a bit too heavy on the quantity); and, dare I say it, even Winston Peters’ abrupt, clipped, machine-gun rants are – save for when he is particularly choleric – great examples of NZE.
Just don’t get me started on grammar and apostrophes …
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Straight, straight - same, same

I've written previously about Dubai's lack of domestic street addresses which means that when you want to go somewhere and you ask for directions, you're often given directions that are convoluted, usually confusing and sometimes just plain wrong. Also, one person's landmark means nothing to someone else, best one I've heard recently was someone who was told "...look for the villa with the big white flowers outside..." Which wasn't much use as it turned out, the big white plant they were talking about only has flowers in May and this was August. Thank heavens for GPSs.
Yesterday I needed to find directions to the Hilton at Ras Al Khaimah. (Ras Al Khaimah is one of the other Emirates.) I went onto the hotel's own website and found the 'directions', which I have copied and pasted, word for word: At the entrance in Ras Al Khaimah take straight road, pass all round abouts straight, pass the bridge, find Manar mall in the right side and you turn left, after 100 m find Etisalat Building in the left side, keep straight 100 m, you will see Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Hotel (city hotel) in your left side , go U turn, keep straight and follow the sign boards.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Samsung Burj claim denied

Despite this 'sort of' denial of the 'sort of' claim, I think there's more to this story than meets the eye. Time will tell.
Source: The Korea Herald
Samsung Corporation Engineering & Construction Group, the firm helping build the world's tallest tower for developer Emaar Properties PJSC in Dubai, did not seek legal advice for a claim against Emaar from Al Tamimi & Co., the law firm said.
"All Tamimi & Co. can confirm is that Samsung have never sought advice for any claim against Emaar relating to the Burj Dubai or otherwise," Lisa Dale, head of the law firm's real estate and construction practice said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
"In the case of the Burj Dubai project we understand that the relationship between Emaar and Samsung is excellent," it added.
Samsung may sue Emaar for $4.1 billion relating to work the Korean contractor carried out on the world's tallest tower in Dubai, Construction Week reported Aug. 1.
And another:

Source: Construction Week
A top contractor employed on the Burj Dubai has sought legal advice for a mammoth US $4.1 billion (AED15 billion) claim related to work it carried out on the world’s tallest tower, Construction Week can reveal.
Korean giant Samsung Engineering & Construction sought advice from UAE-based law firm Al Tamimi & Company, according to the Legal 500 2009: Europe, Middle East & Africa, published by UK-based Legalease.
All three parties concerned in the Legal 500 report have refused to discuss the possible multi-billion-dollar claim further.
When contacted by CW, a senior associate with Al Tamimi’s construction and engineering division, whose colleague dealt with the case, said: “Other than the information disclosed in Legal 500, my colleague informs me he would not be able to add anything.”
An Emaar spokesperson rubbished the claims, saying only that “Emaar does not respond to such rumours and speculation.”
Samsung Engineering also refused to comment.
The Legal 500 report stated that: “[Al Tamimi] continue to receive important instructions, notably in the contentious segment. It recently advised Samsung Corporation Engineering & Construction Group in connection with a $4.1bn claim relating to the famous Burj Dubai Tower.”
The Legal 500 provides coverage of legal service providers and their capabilities, in over 100 countries, including the UAE. The cross-referenced service has been published for over 20 years and is internationally recognised in the legal community.
A total of $4.1 billion would represent the biggest claim ever seen in the regional construction industry by far, experts said.
Dubai-based construction law expert and Pinsent Masons partner Sachin Kerur confirmed he was unaware of any precedent involving such a large figure in the history of construction law.
An increase in the frequency of contractor’s claims against developers is connected to the Dubai government’s $10 billion bond issuance earlier this year and a belief that there is liquidity in the system, construction lawyers said.
“You may have a viable claim, the question is, can you collect?” said Michael Lunjevich, a partner at Dubai-based business law firm Hadef & Partners. “Maybe they think they can collect now.”
Contractors' association vice-chairman Imad Al Jamal agreed that cash from the bond issuance could be influencing the decision of contractors to pursue major claims.
“There is anecdotal evidence in the market that money is flowing back into the system and onto the contractors,” he said. “That would certainly be a positive for the construction industry in easing liquidity and funding issues.”
Samsung Engineering and Construction is one of three main contractors employed on the tower, alongside local firm Arabtec and Belgium-based Besix.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Sandstorm brings gloom to Dubai

I could be wrong, but there seems to have been more sandstorms this summer than last. Only a couple of weeks ago we had a storm that settled over Dubai for 6 days before finally lifting and the storm out there now looks like being no different. As you can see from the photo above, the top of the Burj Dubai almost disappears into a gray shroud.

From Riyadh come reports that people being admitted to hospital suffering from respiratory troubles as a result of breathing in the dust/sand and Dubai is probably the same.

"The Guru" resurfaces in Dubai

Source: New Zealand Herald
A self-proclaimed millionaire motivational guru whose Ferrari sportscar was repossessed in New Zealand is now promoting himself as a "mind nutrition expert" in interviews with Middle Eastern media.
Kevin Abdulrahman is pictured sitting on the bonnet of the Ferrari 360 Modena on his website, which describes the 28-year-old as an "an icon, an international author, an entrepreneur, a generous contributor, a fearless leader, a dreamer".
The Weekend Herald revealed in March that despite the public show of wealth, Badar Ltd, of which Mr Abdulrahman was the sole director and shareholder, bought the Ferrari with a loan from GE Finance.
The $390,000 supercar was repossessed, then sold at auction for a bargain $105,000.
Now Mr Abdulrahman has moved to Dubai, where he has rebranded himself as a "mind nutrition expert", giving interviews to local media and being promoted as a keynote conference speaker. Last month, he shared the stage with captains of industry in a United Arab Emirates Government-sponsored conference.
Mr Abdulrahman was quoted as saying: "To achieve modern government transformation, leadership from within is required, along with having a vision, a sense of direction, a vision and an action plan."
He is also quoted extensively in articles published in the Khaleej Times and Emirates Business newspapers and has been interviewed on Dubai radio.
In the media coverage, Mr Abdulrahman is referred to as an international author and influential speaker, costing $5000 an hour.
The Weekend Herald has notified the Dubai media and Datamatix, who organised the conference, about Mr Abdulrahman's New Zealand past. The UAE Embassy was also alerted.
In June last year, Mr Abdulrahman promised to give the Ferrari away to "one lucky" reader of his book, Winning the Game of Life. He even participated with Paul Henry in a publicity stunt on TVNZ's Breakfast show.
But no one knew the Ferrari had been bought with borrowed money.
Mr Abdulrahman charted his own rags-to-riches story in the Sunday News: Just five years ago he was "flipping burgers" at the McDonald's restaurant in Belmont, North Shore, and finally retired from property development at age 25.
But the Weekend Herald discovered Mr Abdulrahman was involved in Usana Health Services, an American nutritional supplements company. More than 11,000 New Zealand Usana distributors buy the products and earn commissions by selling them and convincing others to become distributors.
He quickly rose to the rank of "emerald director" at Usana Health Services and would speak at Usana conferences held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Auckland, according to advertisements.
While he was unable to be contacted for comment, his motivational advice remains on his website: "Keep pushing the success train and don't let the cowboys slow you down."

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Possible $4bn claim on Burj Dubai

During their visit to Dubai 2-3 months ago, the gents from Seoul consulted local law firm Al Tamimi & Co regarding the Korean corporate giant Samsung's involvement in the Burj Dubai project. The first 'print' acknowledgement of what, until now, has been a hot rumour in legal circles, has now appeared on Legal 500.
'Construction: Within Construction, Al Tamimi & Company is a third tier firm, Al Tamimi & Company lost its head of construction and engineering Edward Sunna in May 2008. It does however continue to receive important instructions, notably in the contentious segment. It recently advised Samsung Corporation Engineering & Construction Group in connection with a $4.1bn claim relating to the famous Burj Dubai Tower.'