The World investors land in Dubai prison

The owners of two islands on Nakheel's The World project have been arrested for allegedly issuing a bouncing cheque.

DUBAI // The owners of two islands on Nakheel's The World project have been arrested for allegedly issuing a bouncing cheque for more than Dh200 million (US$54.4m), according to reports. Dubai residents Mustafa Nagri and Safi Qurashi were said to have been in Port Rashid prison for six weeks awaiting trial over the alleged bad cheque, apparently in connection with a land deal.

In an interview with Zawya Dow Jones, Mr Qurashi was quoted as denying any wrongdoing, saying he and his business partner were "victims of the system". Issuing a cheque that bounces is against the law. The arrest represents a dramatic turn of fortune for the two Britons, who, in 2004, established what turned out to be a highly successful property company, Premier Real Estate Bureau. The company, which has offices in Dubai Marina, was reported to have achieved a turnover of about $610m in 2008.

Their high profile attracted the attention of the celebrity magazine Ahlan!, which featured them in its 2009 "Hot 100" list. In March 2008, Mr Qurashi and Mr Nagri bought the man-made island of Moscow for $58m from Nakheel. The 13-acre island is one of 300 to be constructed as part of The World development islands meant to resemble a map of Earth when the project is completed. In May 2008, the pair acquired the 11-acre island of Great Britain, part of the same development, for $60m. They said they intended to market the development to Britons whom they hoped to entice into investing in the emirate.

A few months later, the global economic downturn began to batter Dubai's property market. In November 2008, Nakheel laid off 500 workers, about 15 per cent of its labour force, "in light of the current global-market conditions". In January last year, the developer said it was putting on hold its plans to develop the world's tallest tower. Later, it posted a 2009 first-half loss of Dh13.43 billion.

A spokeswoman for Nakheel declined to comment yesterday on Mr Nagri and Mr Qureshi's detention, or on their plans to recreate the architecture of Great Britain on the island bearing the same name. "They are the owners and we cannot comment on their behalf," the spokeswoman told The National. No one answered calls at the offices of Premier Real Estate Bureau yesterday. Neither Dubai Police nor the public prosecution could be reached for comment.

Mr Qurashi, a father of three from south London, emerged as an enthusiastic supporter of Dubai, calling his decision to move to the emirate "the best decision I have ever made" in his profile on an internet business-networking site. "Having lived the hectic, fast-paced London life for most of my time I decided that I needed more from life than just work, work, work," he said. "So I decided to move to a city that I believed was going places and could offer me both opportunities in business as well as the lifestyle that I was craving for.

"Two minutes from the beach, 10 months of perfect weather, plenty of sunshine, excellent golf courses and a very chilled-out lifestyle. My fun time is now spent either jet-skiing or snorkelling or spent off-roading in the desert and mountains in a 4x4 or on a quad bike."