Developer loses appeal in $14m Dubai property fraud case

Judges rule Sunland’s appeal against Matthew Joyce, who is under house arrest in Dubai, was ‘groundless’
(Photo for illustrative purposes only)
By Courtney Trenwith
Wed 11 Sep 2013 03:44 PM

An Australian developer has lost an appeal in its high profile $14m case against two businessmen in relation to a failed Dubai Waterfront property deal.

Three judges comprehensively rejected as “groundless” an appeal by Sunland, which claims Matthew Joyce and Angus Reed duped it into paying about $14 million to another Australian company, Prudentia, to secure a development plot known as D17, which was part of the Nakheel development.

It accused Joyce, as Dubai Waterfront's general manager, and Prudentia's Reed, of falsely claiming that Prudentia had rights over D17.

The developer brought parallel cases against the men in Victoria, where it lost, and Dubai, where it won.

In May, the Dubai Ruler’s Court found both men guilty (Reed in absentia) on charges of fraud and sentenced them to 10 years’ jail. Joyce also was fined $25m.

A third man, Marcus Lee, who was held under house arrest in Dubai for four years, was found not guilty.

Joyce, who remains under house arrest in the emirate, is appealing the decision.

In the Australian court’s original finding, three judges called Sunland’s executives "unreliable witnesses" and accused them of having an ulterior motive.

The case attracted the attention of former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, who directly contacted Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

Joyce said in a statement published by the Sydney Morning Herald on September 7 that the Australian appeal judgement ''conclusively documents'' the men’s innocence.

''I remain under house arrest while I focus on my appeal in Dubai,'' he said.

''I will continue my efforts to bring the findings of the Australian courts to the attention of Dubai and ask that the Australian government use every means at its disposal to help me in that effort.''

The original judgment also included an anti-suit injunction preventing Sunland from taking civil action against the men in Dubai and ordered the developer to pay the men’s legal costs.

Sunland appealed, arguing the anti-suit injunction should be overturned because the Dubai criminal ruling included an order that the money be ''returned'', which was a ''valuable right'' that the listed developer should not be restrained from enforcing.

But the Court of Appeal upheld the earlier decisions, agreeing that it was vexatious or oppressive for Sunland to pursue parallel proceedings in Victoria and Dubai, the SMH reported.

''The evidence sought to be adduced by Sunland, that after the hearing of the appeal, the Dubai court had convicted and sentenced Reed and Joyce to 10 years' imprisonment and ordered that they return a sum of money and pay a fine, was not admitted as further evidence in the appeal, but even if it were, it would not have altered the determination of the appeal,'' Chief Justice Marilyn Warren said in her judgement.

The developer's bid to avoid paying the legal costs of the Australians was also rejected.

Shortly after the original Australian case, an MP used parliamentary privilege to reveal a document that appears to show Sunland bribed a former Nakheel lawyer to give false evidence that was used in the court cases against Joyce.

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