Investor spends $217k chasing ACI and gets nothing

Frustrating chase for Niki Lauda towers project refund by UK investor

Tennis legend Boris Becker (left) and ACI CEO Robin Lohmann, at the launch of the Boris Becker towers in 2008. ITP image.
Tennis legend Boris Becker (left) and ACI CEO Robin Lohmann, at the launch of the Boris Becker towers in 2008. ITP image.

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A British investor has spent more than AED800,000 ($217,800) in legal fees in a bid to reclaim money he invested in two offices in a celebrity-branded real estate project in Dubai.

Ron Oakley, who invested AED1.28m in Niki Lauda Twin Towers, has won several legal cases ordering Alternative Capital Invest (ACI) to pay back his money for both failure to complete and for registering the property in another party’s name, but he has yet to see any money.

“If I had my time again, I wouldn’t have done it. It has cost me nearly AED800,000 so far to take them to court, of which we’ll see nothing,” Oakley told Arabian Business.

“There were two different rulings for each case as each office had a separate case. One ruled in my favour based on a court-appointed expert… finding the building to be only five percent started and abandoned for more than two years."

“The other was ruled in my favour as they had registered it to another party with the Land Department,” he added.

ACI unveiled its plans for three celebrity-branded towers at the height of Dubai’s five-year property boom in 2008, fronted by its CEO Robin Lohmann.

Michael Schumacher Business Avenue, Boris Becker Business Tower and Niki Lauda Twin Towers were to be built in the city’s Business Bay district and include residential, retail and office space. ACI’s website describes the development as “truly fit to be named after a legend”.

All three towers stalled following the collapse of Dubai’s property market in late-2008, which saw speculators flee the market and house prices slump more than 60 percent from their peak.

Court bailiffs and several attempts to attach assets to the German developer have been futile, said Oakley. “Initially the court… sent the bailiffs in because they refused to pay, but the court bailiff couldn’t do anything because they had switched trade licenses."

“Then we went back to the courts and we tried to attach some land [but that didn’t work]. The court then sent around to all of the banks in the country to check whether ACI had any bank accounts with them and they all came back negative…. We are in a catch 22,” he added.

ACI filed for bankruptcy on four of its seven property funds in September 2010, according to German media reports. The firm’s website still lists 11 projects that it says are under development, with another six being undertaken by “third party developers”.

Both Niki Lauder and Boris Becker have distanced themselves from the project. Speaking to Arabian Business last February, Becker said he was unsure whether he was still involved in the project that bears his name.

“I have to think about it, because I believe the deal was three or four years old and I’m not sure whether I’m still involved,” he said. “The name is still on it, but whether I’m personally involved? I don’t think so.”

Ex-Formula One racing driver Niki Lauda told Arabian Business last year that he hadn’t heard from the developer since the launch of the project in December 2007. “Who is he? No, I only met him once, when I was there in the beginning and I haven’t heard from him since then,” he said.

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