Belfast Telegraph

Mum fears she will never see the £107,000 she invested in long-delayed George Best Hotel

Muna Anwar is angry over her investment
Muna Anwar is angry over her investment
The site of the George Best Hotel in Belfast
Emma Deighan

By Emma Deighan

A single mother-of-three living in Carrickfergus who says she invested her life savings in the George Best Hotel in Belfast believes the firm behind the project will never pay her back what she is owed.

Sudan-born Muna Anwar said she put £107,000 into the hotel in June 2018 to "make roots" in the country her mother comes from.

But since contracts were completed in the summer of 2018, she said she has received only two quarterly payments back and despite many attempts to contact Signature Living, the firm behind the hotel, she doesn't believe she'll receive the rest of her investment.

She told the Belfast Telegraph: "It's the only money I've got. I am not a wealthy person.

"My mother isn't a rich expat, she spent her life working for charities.

"I am a single mother of three children. I'm not eligible for benefits either.

"I hate the day I invested in this company."

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Ms Anwar said "alarm bells were ringing" when she first contacted the company, owned by Liverpool hotelier Lawrence Kenwright.

"I should have acted on them, but I didn't. I thought I should invest in Northern Ireland. I believed it was a safe place to do that," she said.

"I was educated there while my family were living in Sudan. I boarded in Belfast at Victoria College and my mum always wanted me to have links here. It's a place that helped shape my life and I thought 'what can go wrong?'"

She claimed Signature Living requested £2,000 for further information on the investment, and they said that was a non-refundable payment.

A contract between former health and safety construction officer Ms Anwar and Signature Living was then signed and the deal completed in June 2018.

"I was owed my first instalment in July. That rolled over without a payment and it took many calls and emails," said Ms Anwar.

"I then received it three weeks later, but when October came round it wasn't until December 2018 when I received the second instalment. Around then I decided to come back to Northern Ireland for my children because I wanted them to have roots here and I believed that contract was a great set-up for the move."

Ms Anwar said she was told by the company if the hotel had not opened by January 2019 she would receive all of her investment back, but to date she says she has received nothing more than the two instalments of around £2,100 each in 2018.

"My solicitor told me if I decided to take the company to court I would be at the bottom of the list. I am beginning to doubt that I will ever see any of my investment again. I know, along with others, I will not invest in Northern Ireland again."

Ms Anwar is not the first investor to share her experience of Signature Living with the Press in recent weeks.

Investors in the company's Cardiff-based hotel also reported a halt in repayments. The owner of a Taiwanese investment scheme told Wales Online that the company "kept making excuses" when he requested repayments.

He described the experience as a "tedious process".

A further report by the BBC said that some international investors had flown to the UK to ask for their money back from Lawrence Kenwright, including German investor Susanne Grampe.

A Signature Living spokesperson contacted by the Belfast Telegraph did not respond to Ms Anwar's allegations.

But in a statement earlier this month the company said it will sell five of its properties to settle debts owed, including a site at Waring Street in Belfast.

"Signature Living's investors have their stakes tied up in various apartment blocks and hotels, all of which have significantly increased in value based on projected valuations from some of the UK's top valuers," it said.

"However, due to the uncertainty of Brexit, it is taking longer to secure finance across the property development sector, which is why Signature Living has opted to sell a number of sites in order to return money to investors."

It added that it expected to generate £58m in potential sales, of which £40m will be allocated to repay investors.

"Signature Living regrets any inconvenience investors may have experienced through delays to their repayment.

"We have reassured them that their money remains secure and at no point has their investment been at risk."

Ms Anwar said: "They need to pay people their quarterly instalments and then people will give them the time they need to get finance in order.

"They have a contract with people. It's the little people who suffer."

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