hotel group gets bad press

No reaction in Rarotonga yet to news reports in New Zealand quoting investors unhappy with the way the group said to be funding two major hotel projects in the Cook Islands is being run. In a report headlined �Knives out at Investors Forum� on 6 February 2005, the Sunday Star Times reported complaints from anonymous backers. 'At least one project turned into a nightmare,' said one. 'We feel that once we signed up we were treated pretty shabbily as customers.' Reports of problems at the Forum have not been picked up locally. Instead, government appears to be charging ahead with law changes to help put a deal in place to finish the long-stalled Vaimaanga project, formerly known as the �Sheraton� or �Italian� hotel. On Thursday, government tabled the �Unit Titles Bill,� a new law designed to allow ownership of buildings separate from land. A picture of project developer Tim Tepaki at what became an in camera or closed doors session appeared on the front page of daily Cook Islands News. Tepaki was pictured seated between former Solicitor General John McFadzien, now in private practice drafting legislation, and another lawyer, Tim Arnold, representing landowner Pa Ariki. Concerns are being raised about the proposed law and what effect this will have on landowner rights. Tepaki has long sought to develop the property, with public comments dating back ten years or more. His latest attempt involves backing from the Investors Forum. Reports of complaints at the Investors Forum join a long history of developers who fell into problems while talking up the Vaimaanga site. Investors Forum was set up after Dan McEwan, a property developer since the 60�s, returned from Australia in 2000. At the time, the New Zealand property market was booming. In what the Sunday Star Times describes as a series of “slick” seminars, McEwan began attracting what became more than 2000 private investors to the Forum. “Many millions” were invested by the Forum into about NZ$400 million in properties around New Zealand, according to the paper. Some disillusioned investors are not the only ones soured by events. Property-related professionals contacted by the Sunday Star-Times also questioned a company governance model exposing small investors to risks usually shouldered by professional developers. They also question a property development scheme that relies on valuation increases for capital gain. "That's fine in the market we have seen over the past few years, but what about in future?" one asked in the Sunday Star Times. News reports prompted background digging. Last year, Investors Forum was dismissed as being promoted by “spruikers” in reports from a self-proclaimed real estate ethics watchdog in Australia, Jenman. A “spruiker” is Australian slang for a noisy salesman, with Jenman advertising itself as an educational and awareness organisation. In a report headlined, “Old spruikers present new seminars,” the company’s chief executive Neil Jenman warned against advice from McEwan. “With New Zealand apartments predicted to crash and Kiwis shunning them, perhaps it is clever to target Australians,” said Jenman. He quoted an email from Australian promoters of the Investors Group as claiming that, “Anyone who is serious about creating wealth via property needs to attend this event. Hosted by Dan McEwan of the successful New Zealand company Investors Forum. Dan has acquired $1.37 billion of developments under construction. A clever man – would you say??” Jenman attacked McEwan’s Australian promoters as “cronies” from other get-rich schemes. Clients approached by McEwans promoters were the same as those already fleeced by another “spruiker” Henry Kaye, said Jenman. Kaye “raked” in A$60 million in the financial year to July 2003 through his National Investment Institute, a body investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for “misleading and deceptive advertising.” Jenman reports that Grant Luke, one of Kaye’s former NII “consultants” was signing up loans just days before the institute closed its doors. Luke went on to promote other property development schemes through a new company called Wealth Networks Pty Ltd, including the Investors Forum. Quoted by the Sunday Star Times, McEwan defended the performance of his company. "Early on, we may have let a few less sophisticated investors slip through that we shouldn't have," he said. McEwan went on to talk up other projects including a $100 million development of the Waiwera hotpools into an international spa, and, the Vaimaanga resort. "We are working on ways in which we can de-risk that project," McEwan said about the resort. Some investors are now complaining those ways include unloading most of the risk on them.