Jumblatt Falls Into Costly Chouf Property Trap

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Druse leader Walid Jumblatt, gestures as he speaks during a press conference at his house, in Beirut, Lebanon, on Friday July 1, 2011. (Photo: AP - Hussein Malla).

By: Mohamed Nazzal

Published Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The legal action filed by Walid Jumblatt against real estate dealer Hussein Bdeir carries many implications. Jumblatt claims Bdeir defrauded him in collaboration with Jumblatt's close associate, Baheej Abu Hamza. They sold him more than 266,000 square meters of "fake" property for an estimated $8 million. This is Jumblatt's side of the story.

If the information contained in the complaint filed by Walid Jumblatt to the first investigative judge in Beirut against real estate dealer Hussein Ibrahim Badr is proven to be true, this would mean that Jumblatt was a victim of a swindle that he is not likely to forget.

Jumblatt maintains he was defrauded by his "highly trusted" business manager Abu Hamza, who facilitated his purchase of property at a cost higher than the real value. It seems that Jumblatt's "demographic" concerns led him to borrow from banks and purchase property that would help get rid of the specter of sectarian mixing in his Chouf district.

Al-Akhbar obtained a copy of the legal complaint filed by Jumblatt. It accuses Abu Hamza of complicity, but does not ask for legal action against him, opting to focus litigation for "fraud" against Bdeir.

According to the complaint, Jumblatt purchased a piece of property in Wadi Abu Seif at the borders of the Chouf district through his property manager Abu Hamza in 2010. The purchase aimed to "put an end to digging and scarring the mountain, caused by the property's owner Hadi Z. B. Jumblatt bought the property at a high price, since he wants to protect the Chouf area and the beauty of its forests."

The complaint explains that Bdeir is involved in trading and developing real estate. He bought hundreds of thousands of meters of land around Wadi Abu Youssef "at very low prices, taking advantage of those lands' ownership passing to a large number of heirs." According to the complaint, Bdeir paid $10 per square meter for an area of 571,130 square meters.

Thus begins Jumblatt’s entanglement. According to the complaint, based on "an airtight plan, the defendant Bdeir began spreading rumors saying he intended to develop and construct residential complexes on the property he had bought. He asked his friend, Sheikh Abu Hamza to convince Jumblatt to buy the land to stop the project for material gains."

Abu Hamza was able to convince Jumblatt, "taking advantage of the trust he had been granted." Jumblatt’s claim also maintains that Abu Hamza told Jumblatt that he could use his influence with Bdeir to sell the land for the same price by which he had bought it, without making any profit.

It’s interesting that Jumblatt filed the claim against Bdeir but not Abu Hamza. However, the text of the complaint contains the following sentence. "But the claimant did not know what the defendant [Bdeir] and his manager [Abu Hamza] had in store for him or his intention to defraud him of his money, taking advantage of his crowded political and social schedule."

Al-Akhbar contacted Jumblatt's lawyer, Hussam Rasbey, to inquire about neglecting to name Abu Hamza as a defendant, but he refused to speak about the case. "The file is at the court and it will decide," Rasbey explained. "It has nothing to do with politics. It is purely judicial."

The claim says that the property purchased by Jumblatt from Bdeir and with the involvement of Abu Hamza carry the numbers 1-2-3-4-5-6-10, with a total area of 837,505 square meters. It maintains that Bdeir had shown Jumblatt a map prepared by the Baabda real estate department in 1966, which he had obtained in March 2010.

However, "Bdeir and Abu Hamza concealed – on purpose – another map, drawn on 4/6/1969, indicating that property 2 had been reduced from 499,240 to 232,900 square meters, following its parcelling." This led Jumblatt to conclude that the defendant, along with Abu Hamza, “fraudulently sold him 266,340 square meters that were not part of the transaction and did not pertain to property 2 in the sales operation." According to his own estimates, Jumblatt paid $8 million for the missing piece of land.

"Bdeir and Abu Hamza informed Jumblatt that the former had bought the property, based on that area, and set the price at $30 [per square meter], for a total of $25 million for the property in total."

To pay for the land, Jumblatt acquired the debts owed by Bdeir's company, Wadi Abu Youssef for Tourism, Development, and Construction SAL, to the Lebanese Canadian Bank, amounting to $10 million. He provided "personal and real estate guarantees for the debt." The remaining amount was paid through a personal loan of $15 million from SGBL, at 6.5 percent in interest, providing "personal and real estate guarantees, including the first loan."

The text of the complaint states that Jumblatt "used his personal credit, family heirloom, and the trust of various banks to pay this price for the pieces of property." In his claim, Jumblatt seems to admit that his personal influence allows him to borrow large sums of money from banks to "protect the Chouf's environment." For some, this environment refers to nature and forests, but others understand it to mean demographics.

The following excerpt of the complaint shows the extent of the rift between Jumblatt and Abu Hamza. Jumblatt "fell for these deceitful methods and maneuvers, which were performed by Bdeir and supported by Baheej Abu Hamza, who used to enjoy Jumblatt's full trust, after he maintained to the claimant that he had reviewed the documents and confirmed the areas of the property included in the sale."

Thus, Jumblatt bought the "fake" property and swallowed the bait, due to "his fears about the situation of the entrance of the Chouf area." In mid-2013, Jumblatt discovered the fraud while organizing his assets and property. "People in charge of the operation discovered that the area of the purchased property differs from the actual land area."

When Jumblatt summoned Abu Hamza and asked about the discrepancy, "the latter attempted to justify the difference in property 2 by claiming it was parcelled into different properties, also owned by Bdeir, so each survey showed a different area."

All of this is "hot air," Bdeir told Al-Akhbar in a phone conversation. "What Jumblatt is saying is not true. My property is registered at the real estate and survey departments, and I have this in detailed maps. Jumblatt agreed on this area following several meetings with him directly at his home for three days straight. Jumblatt was there in person, along with Abu Hamza and several lawyers and witnesses."

On his relationship with Abu Hamza, Bdeir was surprised to hear what Jumblatt had written in his claim. "Before the sales operation, I did not know Abu Hamza at all and did not even have his phone number," he explained. "If they want, they can look up my communications records, and I am confident of what I am saying. Abu Hamza is the one who called me. He did not have my phone number, so he obtained it from Haitham al-Jurdi, who is actually an old friend of mine."

Asked about Jumblatt's demographic-confessional anxieties, Bdeir insisted "they are not in the right place. I might be a Shia, but I have nothing to do with Hezbollah. On the contrary, I used to be in the Amal Movement and now I am a well-known building trader. This is my only job. I work in construction and I sell to everyone, without exception."

Bdeir also points out that Jumblatt "had marked my property at the real estate department as being under study, using his influence, probably through Minister of Public Works and Transportation Ghazi al-Aridi, even though I gave him a legitimate survey statement, issued by governmental departments."

Back to the legal action, informed sources told Al-Akhbar that the First Investigative Judge in Beirut Ghassan Oueidat summoned the defendant, but Bdeir asked for a grace period to find a lawyer. His lawyers are currently studying the case files.

Jumblatt has already presented four dossiers related to Bdeir and Abu Hamza. Formal arguments were presented in two cases, but the judge returned them to the public prosecution to receive its opinion. In general, this legal period is called "arguments and grace periods." It might take a long time due to its routine nature.

Yet a legal expert following the case said, "Based on experience in similar cases, the file might be expedited and Baheej Abu Hamza will certainly be asked to appear in front of the judge and is likely to be indicted."

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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