ACI buyers team up in legal bid to revive celebrity towers

The three celebrity-branded towers were launched at the height of Dubai's real estate boom

German investors are hoping to kickstart three celebrity-branded real estate projects in Dubai after pursuing legal action against the developer for what they claim is fraud.

The group, which claims to represent more than 3,000 buyers, wants to band together with UAE residents who invested in real estate schemes backed by Alternative Capital Invest (ACI), in a bid to press ahead with the stalled properties.

“We want to combine the interest from the local investors in Dubai with the investors here from Europe to realise the projects. We think that is the only way how we can give back the money to the investors,” group spokesperson Rainer Regnery told Arabian Business.

“There are already 400 cases here in Germany against ACI – it’s a big fraud. We have two opportunities for investors; one is to do with the lawsuit, the other side is to realise the projects.”

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, to 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.

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”.

The property funds were launched in 2004, with investors believed to have paid $75m into them.

In an email, the ACI investor group said it had a number of European companies interested in relaunching the stalled Dubai towers.

 “Our objective is to get ownership of ACI projects in Dubai, to realise them and bring them to market together with joint venture partners,” the email said. “We believe that this is the only way to save our invested money.”

The group has the full support from Michael Schumacher, Boris Becker and Niki Lauda, Regnery said.

Boris Becker told Arabian Business in February he was unsure whether he was still involved in the project the bears his name.

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“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.”

Becker is not the only star to have distanced himself from the project. Ex-Formula One racing driver Niki Lauda told Arabian Business last year that had 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.

Lohmann in 2009 hit back at claims that the projects were being cancelled and that investors would lose their cash, saying: “For me there is no chance I will do a hit and run. You know why? Because I haven’t even collected the money I have invested and spent here. I’m not going ahead and losing AED500m ($136.1m), it’s not the way.”

Lohmann could not be contacted for comment.

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