HK businessman claims he was forced out of venture in Bahrain

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2007, 12:00am

Bahrain's honorary consul in Hong Kong will investigate a Hong Kong-based businessman's claim that authorities in the Gulf state forced him to abandon a sports marketing firm to his local partners.

Robert Maes, chief executive of High Five, a sports marketing company based in Queen's Road West, said he had lost HK$4 million in the venture and had contacted Hong Kong police about the matter, but accepted there was not much they could do.

With his Hong Kong-born wife, Mandy Chu Man-wai, Mr Maes set up Sports Marketing Asia, which is linked to High Five and is helping Bahrain's bid to host the 2010 World Road Cycling Championships.

Mr Maes, a Belgian national who says he moved to Hong Kong 30 years ago, said their business partners physically and verbally abused them at their home on March 8, an allegation that one of his partners denies.

Ms Chu, High Five's general manager, said her husband had left for a lunch meeting when two of their business partners arrived at their villa, which they used as an office.

'They grabbed me by the shirt, pushed me away and went into my husband's office,' she said. 'They were screaming at me in Arabic. Then four or five police came into the house looking for my husband.'

Mr Maes said that when he arrived home he agreed to go with them to the police station. There he was breathalysed and forced to sign statements written in Arabic. He refused to sign but relented when he feared he would not be allowed to leave.

The couple fled Bahrain the next day, leaving behind a puppy and two luxury sports cars, Mr Maes said.

'We decided we would leave the country on the first plane the next morning. We packed 13 suitcases and left,' Mr Maes said. 'There was no way I expected this to happen. My business partners could not have been more welcoming until that day when they turned against me.'

Mr Maes said he believed his relationship with his partners started to turn sour about seven months ago when he refused to take on well-connected friends.

Mr Maes said he started his business in Bahrain with two brothers who had connections to Bahrain's royal family. Mohammed Alghatam, a former minister of education now in charge of the Bahrain's telecommunications regulatory committee, also joined the venture.

Speaking from Bahrain, Dr Alghatam said he knew nothing of Mr Maes' allegations. 'Everything has been done by the law,' he said. 'He makes this allegation but let us see him prove it.'

A spokeswoman for Bahrain's honorary consul in Hong Kong, Chow Yei-ching, said they would look into Mr Maes' allegations.