Thursday, January 13, 2011

UK land scheme shock

Extracted from The Sun:

LONDON (Jan 12, 2010): Many Malaysians have "invested" between RM100,000 and RM500,000 each in land in various parts of the United Kingdom, only to find out that they will not be able to make any returns on their investments.

Actual numbers are hazy but it is understood that with the setting up of Profitable Plots Sdn Bhd (PPSB), an agent for UK land banking schemes, there have been a number of locals who were caught unawares.
They were promised returns of between 250% and 500% after a few years but the titles to the land they are holding are not worth the paper they are written on.

Although they legally own the land, they can do little with it as the land is situated in "green belts" or undeveloped areas which are protected from any form of development or agricultural land where no development is likely to be permitted.

The authorities here have taken action against several firms promoting such schemes but have been unable to prevent them from operating in Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

Because such land is unlikely to be approved for development, they are bought at low prices and divided into smaller plots and offered for sale on the basis that when future development plans are approved, these plots will be more valuable.

However, the UK Land Registry has warned that prospective buyers have been misled about the prospects of approval for development and this in turn "could lead them into thinking that they can sell the plots at an appreciated price when development applications are approved".

Mike Westcott-Rudd, Head of Corporate Legal Services for Land Registry says it will register any application to register and issue titles to land as long as the papers are in order, but has no powers to prevent such sales. The Registry will not question the circumstances under which the land is bought or sold.

"However, if documents are forged as in the case of a company which promoted such schemes in Singapore, the registry will assist the authorities in bringing the culprits to book," he told theSun.

Authorities in Singapore prosecuted one company for using a forged document to promote the scheme.

Forged Land Registry letters have been produced in some cases to suggest that there is official approval (by the Registry) but it plays no part in the planning approval process as this comes under the local authorities.

On Tuesday, the Kuala Lumpur High Court upheld Companies Commission of Malaysia’s (CCM) declaration in October 2008 that Profitable Plots Sdn Bhd (PPSB), which is involved in land investments in the United Kingdom (UK), had contravened the Companies Act.

CCM said in a statement that PPSB filed its application to the court through an originating summons on Jan 30, 2009.

"In its summons, PPSB claimed that it was in the business of facilitating the sale of UK land owned by Profitable Plots Pte Ltd – a Singaporean incorporation," the statement said.

However CCM's investigations indicated that the company not only coordinated and managed the process with buyers to ensure that they gained legal deeds on the land they bought, but also directly sold the land to these buyers which it was not authorised to do so.

Furthermore, CCM said these buyers also had to sign a 20-year-option agreement that they will not object to any planning development close to their property.

Despite the action in Malaysia and Singapore, similar schemes are still being promoted via the Internet and at private "investment briefings" and through marketing agents.

UK land registry's Westcott-Rudd advised investors to seek professional or legal advice before parting with their money.

Celebrities roped in to sell UK land

LONDON (Jan 12, 2011): "Buy UK Land! We did!" No prizes for guessing which celebrities uttered these words, unless of course you are not a football fan and don’t tune in to ESPN/StarSports on Astro. The answers of course are the football pundits – Bryan Robson, Steve McMahon, Jamie Reeves and our own Shebby Singh about four years ago.

All appeared in television commercials endorsing the campaign by Profitable Plots Ltd in their promotional activities.

But early this year, Robson told The Sunday Telegraph that he did a TV commercial for Profitable Plots five years ago. "I have not done anything for them since and I was unaware of any controversy over development of the land."

Shebby who has endorsed other products, in an email to theSun said: "I was a high-profile talent that featured in Profitable Plots marketing and promotions efforts in Singapore and Malaysia. I appeared in a TV commercial, also had my mug plastered all over some buses in Singapore. It was a term contract that lasted one year."

One of Profitable Plots advertisements said: "The land is only two miles from Heathrow" and that’s true.

The name of the area was changed by Profitable Plots from Lower Feltham Lakes to Concorde Village for the purposes of the marketing drive.

It sounded like the perfect business opportunity for Malaysians especially that investors could buy land so close to the world’s busiest airport for £8,000 (now RM40,000 but then about RM52,000) with the promise of a return of 250% within three years.

The company claimed in its website that the Lower Feltham Lakes site was ripe for a housing project comprising 1,000 homes and a previous entry boasted that development proposals had already been submitted.

However, Hounslow Council has confirmed that no application had been submitted.

No development can take place unless a planning inspector can be persuaded to overrule the site’s green belt status against the wishes of Hounslow Council, which opposes building there.

A council spokesman said: "We will develop green belt land only if there were very special reasons. We see no special reasons for doing so on this site."

What can investors do?

Legal action to recover their monies is an option. But yet again, there’s a question as to which company – the UK or the Malaysian – which signed the contract? The Malaysian company has a RM2 paid-up capital and seeking redress may be a lengthy and costly exercise.

Malaysians who parted with their money have little to show – except a piece of paper which states they own a plot of land, which will remain undeveloped because of the strict laws on green belts and agricultural land.

They can offer to sell it, but it is unlikely that there would be any takers. The only consolation is a boastful "I own a piece of land near Heathrow Airport!"