Aspiring expats dreams shattered by dodgy property deal

Published:  30 Aug at 6 PM
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Yet another British national has fallen foul of the type of off-plan property scam common in favourite expat destinations, but this one has an even nastier twist to its tail.

Expats familiar with this particularly unpleasant scam operated in locations popular with long-stayers as well as holidaymakers won’t be surprised to read yet another trusting Briton has lost all her savings to a bunch of unprincipled developers looking to rake in far more than the actual price of the homes. 51-yearold Alice O’Connor has found herself caught up for nine long years in a legal nightmare involving an IRA terrorist and the local Italian Mafia.

Sucked in by the stunning views from the site of a so-called new development in Calabria, Alice returned home and paid a deposit of £35,000 after she’d checked the provided paperwork and satisfied herself all was in order. Apart from the stunning location, a factor in her decision was the developer’s documentation stating property prices in the region would triple over the coming years. The legalities were to be taken care of by bilingual lawyers with a London office, leaving Alice confident her savings were being well invested.

Fast forwarding nine years, the development was never completed, leaving Alice and many other purchasers in a legal morass. Building had stopped in 2008, ostensibly as a result of planning permission issues and, in 2013, the entire development was confiscated by Italian financial police who were, and still are, investigating the now defunct company for its money laundering and links to not only the Mafia but a convicted IRA terrorist.

The duped buyers were told their deposits would not be returned, sparking the 185-strong group’s legal action against the firm’s UK registered lawyers, Giambrone Law. Two High Court cases, followed, with the presiding judge in the second case concluding legal advice given to buyers by Giambrone Law was a breach of trust as no enquiries were made concerning valid planning permissions and commissions paid to VFI Overseas Property had been concealed.

Crucially, the judge found buyers had not been alerted to the fact that Calabria’s construction industry had strong links to the Mafia, exacerbating the risk of criminal activity in the region. Press reports produced at the hearing suggested the VFI Overseas Property boss was a convicted IRA terrorist, and the court ordered Giambrone Law to reimburse the buyers in full.

Two more years of legal delays were due to appeals against the verdict, but last month a court of appeal upheld the judgement. However, rather than receiving their money, the buyers are now fighting Giambrone’s insurers, AIG. The insurance giant insists the claim of £3 million must be split between all the buyers, a move meaning a shortfall against buyers’ losses of some £4.5,million.

In addition, the court of appeal judge had expressed concerns that, according to AIG, the £3 million had shrunk to £37,000. AIG has declined to comment further, and the legalities are still dragging on. Alice and 184 others still have no idea if or when their money will be returned.
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