Friday, February 23, 2024

    The Dubai betrayal – Sameer Lakhani GCP

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    Investigations into Turnstar Holdings’ Dubai investments have revealed how property moghul Gulaam Abdoola was hoodwinked by a childhood friend. As things stand, Abdoola is a man burdened by a mighty weight on his shoulders. Apart from his personal millions, he also has to answer to Turnstar and the individual local investors who took his word and poured their millions down the drain.

    It is said that Golaam Abdoola and Uzair Razi were childhood friends who once played soccer in the streets of Gaborone, where Razi’s father worked as Head of BCCI Bank.

    Further, it emerges that years later, Razi and his wife relocated to Dubai, where he worked in real estate. The two friends are said to have maintained close contact, and Razi offered to assist Abdoola as he made forays into Dubai’s eminent real estate investments.

    Apparently, Razi interested Adboola in investing in a newly completed office block called Palazzo Venezia. He is said to have provided all due diligence documents to Turnstar Holdings, including a five-year pre-lease to a logistics company. It looked like a great investment, and Abdoola was hooked. But Razi had just started…

    OKAVANGO JVC – The Residential Development

    With Abdoola now languishing in the palm of his hand, Razi apparently came back with yet another lucrative investment – an opportunity to partner in a multi-story apartment building. Razi was looking for partners and demonstrated that the numbers were good, with high interest from potential tenants and a 9.0 percent yield. Together with his partner Sameer Lakhani, Razi presented proposed plans, costings, and projected yields to a bedazzled Abdoola. Apparently, he rushed to present the opportunity to other investors in Botswana, where he was highly regarded as a property magnate and shrewd business man. They also fell for the scam hook, line and sinker.

    Razi and Lakhani then put their plan in motion. They are said to have advised Abdoola that foreigners who wanted to invest in Dubai were required to transfer funds into a Free Zone Authority, the equivalent of Botswana’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

    The unsuspecting Botswana investors are then said to have incorporated a company called Bucephalus Holdings Limited in the Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA), with Abdoola as Director so he could take care of the Botswana investors’ interests. Lakhani was given power of attorney to protect the interests of Abdoola and his cohort of unsuspecting Botswana investors.

    Bucephalus Holdings was set up purely as an SPV, to receive funds from investors and own the land purchased for the project. Once the project was completed, Bucephalus Holdings would transfer ownership of the units to each investor. Therefore, neither Bucephalus Holdings nor Abdoola were developers in this project. The developers were Global Capital Partners FZ-LLC, a company owned by Sameer Lakhani.

    Construction began in earnest after the funds were transferred from Bucephalus Holdings into Global Capital Partners FZ-LLC. Even Abdoola was said to have been impressed with progress when he visited Dubai in September 2019.

    The building was almost complete and at snagging stage. It would be ready for occupation within a few months. Because the development risk was over, Abdoola saw great potential in the project and wanted Turnstar Holdings to also be part of the project.

    He later presented the opportunity to the Turnstar Board and they agreed that it was a worthy investment. The Board apparently did not bother doing due diligence. They had all the trust in their man. After all he had built Turnstar from almost nothing in 2002 to a diversified regional sub-Saharan African property loan stock company that is listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) and boasts of property portfolios throughout Botswana and as far as Dar-es-Salaam. So the Board simply took his word.

    The necessary investment agreements were signed and funds were transferred into Bucephalus Holdings. Adboola was well on his way to conquering Dubai, with the backing of Botswana’s biggest property company and a cohort of over awed local investors. And then COVID-19 hit.

    Throughout 2020, Abdoola apparently accepted Razi and Lakhani’s explanation that construction had been delayed by COVID- 19. In February 2021, Abdoola is said to have received a frantic phone call from Razi, who claimed to have ‘only found out’ that Lakhani had misappropriated some of the investor funds.

    Luckily, Dubai had just opened up for international travel and Adboola hopped on the next plane. He arrived in Dubai the same week and visited the construction site, where a frantic Razi told him that contractors had laid down their tools as they were owed money.

    Unperturbed by Dubai’s sky scrapers, the property magnate from Botswana got to work. After all he was one of the diamond rich country’s richest men. Abdoola is said to have whipped out his cheque book and paid off the contractors. Razi then dropped another bombshell. He apparently revealed that Lakhani had not transferred ownership of the properties to Bucephalus Holdings for onward transfer to the investors. Contrary to what had been agreed, Lakhani had instead transferred ownership of the whole property to a certain Furqan Hussain, a resident of Pakistan.

    While Razi feigned ignorance of the whole fracas, evidence that later surfaced in court showed that it was in fact Razi who signed and completed transfer of ownership of the project to Hussain in November 2017. Another document shows a hand-written agreement dated 26th January 2021, allocating 16 apartments each to Razi and Lakhani on condition that Razi gets the project completed. Effectively, Razi had already agreed to this deal a month before he called Abdoola about delays in completion.

    Abdoola immediately retained lawyers in Dubai and ceased any more investments. He consulted with all contractors and consultants who had been involved in the building. They were shocked to discover that he was also an owner, as they only knew Razi and Lakhani, who had regularly hosted interested buyers from Africa to view the building.

    Back in Botswana, Abdoola broke the news to the local investors. He told them that the building could have long been completed with their initial investments had they not been misappropriated. He further revealed that the allocations sent to them by Razi were incorrect, and they were each due more units. He concluded with revealing that he had lined up a team of high profile lawyers to commence court proceedings in Dubai.

    Abdoola went back to Dubai in May 2021 to kick start the lawsuit. The investors were advised by Abdoola’s lawyers to cede their rights to Abdoola so he could effectively represent them in court. Otherwise each of them would have to pursue their own cases, which would be costly, complex and time consuming. They were also warned that the court process in Dubai could be lengthy. Abdoola put his neck on the block and undertook to pay any one of them off at any point if they so wished. After all, they had invested their hard earned money because they trusted his instinct.

    Documents before court show that Razi received a commission of AED 1,442, 300 for the sale of the Palazzo Venezia to Tunstar Holdings. He also signed the transfer of ownership of the land to Furqan Hussain. In February 2022, Razi met with Rizwan Desai, Adboola’s lawyer, whereupon he declared his willingness to cooperate with Abdoola given certain concessions. He also admitted that he had disclosed information to Sunday Standard.

    TURNSTAR HOLDINGS – Palazzo Venezia

    Palazzo Venezia was the first opportunity that Razi presented to Abdoola. Eager to reel him in, Razi presented Abdoola with all the due diligence documents, including a five-year pre-lease to a logistics company, with a starting rental of AED 3,1 million per annum. Abdoola then instructed the Turnstar Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to come to Dubai to view the building and conduct all necessary checks and balances. The CFO agreed that the building and the returns both looked favorable.

    Razi was also asked to provide a valuation for the building through a reputable company, examine the lease and verify the title deeds. As the agent and man on the ground, Razi held the power of attorney and was meant to safeguard the interests of Turnstar Holdings. Everything went well for two years as the rentals were coming in as per the lease. The rental payments stopped coming in during COVID-19. Upon inquiry, management was told that the tenant logistics company was unable to conduct its business because Emirates Airways had suspended most of its flights. A rental holiday and reduction were suggested to give the tenants some breathing space. Management agreed. After all the same lenience had been extended to Turnstar tenants in Game City and Mlimani City.

    While in Dubai in March 2021, Abdoola also instructed his lawyers to look into the Palazzo Venezia matter. They were shocked to discover that the lease that was held by Turnstar was false. The building was not occupied by a logistics company, but rather various small tenants. Even the valuation given to Turnstar was based on a fake lease. Turnstar had purchased Palazzo Venezia at an inflated price. Razi and Lakhani had also inflated the rentals. The two had also withheld the four percent transfer fees that Tunstar had been levied as payment to the Lands Department. The VAT collected on the sale had also not been remitted to government.

    It also emerged that Lakhani had been depositing the rentals into an account held by Palazzo Venezia, to which he was the only signatory. Razi had somehow managed to execute a resolution authorizing Lakhani to operate the bank accounts of Palazzo Venezia; purportedly as an agent of Tunstar Holdings but without notifying Tunstar Holdings. Turnstar attorneys in Dubai are pursuing civil and criminal cases against Lakhani, Razi and their accountants at GCP.

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