Conor Lenihan: brokered deal

A COUPLE who invested hundreds of thousands of euro in four Dubai apartments they have yet to receive after six years say government intervention may now help them get their money back.

Alan and Karen O'Neill, from Knocklyon in Dublin, sank their life savings into the investment but say they are being ignored by the agent who sold them the properties.

Some 200 similar investors in Ireland have formed a group with a view to launching legal proceedings if other options prove unfruitful.

Minister of state Conor Lenihan has helped broker a deal between Irish government officials and Dubai's Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA) at the end of the month in a bid to resolve the issue.

For many investors the outcome of that meeting could prove vital to their future.

"We borrowed, we put in our SSIAs, our cash savings and we remortgaged our home as well," said Alan O'Neill, who invested a total of €440,000.

"One unit is totally paid for for the last 24 months but the keys and deeds are still missing. I don't know if it's let out because I can't get in contact with anyone. I have even been over there on the ground myself and I can't get the keys."

The couple say they were planning for their children's future and intended to sell off three properties to clear their mortgage at home in Ireland.

But with the Irish-based agent Larionovo in liquidation and the Dubai-based agent Profile not responding to calls, the fate of their investment, and those of other investors, remain in the balance.

Karen O'Neill works as a part-time airhostess and Alan as a sales manager whose working week was recently cut back to three days. "I bring it to work with me and I don't sleep and I worry. I have three kids aged five, three and two so of course it must have a bearing on things; I'm stressed out about it," he said. "Karen is our backbone. But now we need to address it and we need answers. The bank manager is looking for money from me and bills have to be paid.

"It's all over there and it's legit; one of them exists and I have been over there two or three times a year because I don't part with money that I work hard for.

"There are a lot of other people out there. I reckon a lot of other people have parted with money; their savings under the mattress for a rainy day."

Many investors bought the properties off the plans years ago and, while they were due to be completed by early 2008, one investor said many of the sites are just a "hole in the ground".

Another source said that the Dubai economic collapse has had a huge effect on the property boom there and that developers are able to hide behind a cloak of complicated local regulations. Without active agents, buyers have nobody to turn to.

As a result, around 200 angry investors have formed the Dubai Action Group and have sought legal advice.

A meeting has now been set up between the elusive developers, investors, Irish officials from the embassy in Dubai and RERA, building confidence that, at the very least, some questions will be answered.

A spokesman for the defunct Larionova told the Sunday Tribune it had tried to offer assistance but its hands were now tied as the company was in liquidation.

He added that the meeting at the end of the month was the best course of action.