Chapter 4

THE SAYFCO HOLDING EMPIRE

In 2004, after he founded SAYFCO HOLDING, Chahe developed a successful new marketing strategy to target potential customers living abroad and willing to invest in Lebanon.

In 2005, he established SAYFCO BROKERAGE in Bahrain, the first division of SAYFCO overseas. The mission of this newly born entity was to promote the Group’s companies and projects in the Middle Eastern market.

He purchased land in Dbaye after several months of intense negotiations and developed the Marina Hills project. He was able to sell the project in just a few months at an average of $1,500/sqm whereas the market in that area was around $1,000/sqm. He started getting recognition among real estate developers and financial institutions, who saw a visionary, a pioneer and an aggressive businessman in him. Business leaders such as Mr. Raymond Audi (Chairman of Bank Audi) and Mr. Mario Saradar (Chairman of Saradar Group) sent letters of admiration and respect to Chahe.

In 2006, Chahe boosted SAYFCO’s operations significantly by entering the luxury real estate market. He started developing CLOUDS, a multi-million dollar project consisting of 11 high-end villas, in Faqra Club. The same year, CLOUDS was awarded the second best project at the CITYSCAPE International Property Exhibition in Dubai among 800 other projects worldwide, and later, in 2008, it received the CNBC Arabian real estate property award. Because of CLOUDS, all land prices in that region increased 4 fold. SAYFCO became known as a leading real estate development company.

Through all these years, Vahe would always nag and remained pessimistic about the company’s future. He also stopped going to the construction sites. For example, in CLOUDS, he only visited the site once during the 3-year construction period. Every time a new land was purchased, Vahe complained that it would not be successful, and put forward his reservations in proceeding with the projects. He did not believe in Chahe’s vision and thought Chahe was wrong in building an “image de marque” at the cost of making low profits. In fact, all he did during this time, was come for a few hours to the office to nag and talk pessimistically about the company’s future.

Their mother, Houry, was worried that fed up with Vahe’s outrageous way of thinking, Chahe might leave the company to start something on his own, leaving Vahe to a catastrophic future. She therefore insisted Chahe to cope with the pessimistic attitude of Vahe and his non-stop negative conversations. She urged him not to listen to Vahe and just let Vahe enjoy the free ride, as it would not look good for the family if Vahe were left aside, and always reminded Chahe that, after all, Vahe was still his brother.

Chahe agreed as he considered the family’s good reputation an important factor in the company’s reputation, and simply put up with years of insult and nagging, just for the sake of SAYFCO’s future.

 

In 2007, Chahe founded AHLAM LANDS, to develop a unique mountain resort spread over 2 million sqm of land. He took this decision after visiting a region in Kfardebian, which, he immediately realized, held a promising future. Chahe bought his first 1,000 sqm in that area, although  Vahe continued making fun of this purchase as well, warning Chahe that he would never be able to pull this off, and that Chahe was crazy in buying land in such a deserted area. In fact, he said he did not want SAYFCO to be part of it and that Chahe should go ahead on his own in this project.

Chahe, however, did not go on his own as he wanted SAYFCO to benefit from this “gold mine”. In less than a year, Chahe, through bank loans of $12m, managed to purchase over 1 million sqm of land fragmented in over 200 plots. He then sold part of the company to close the bank debt and finally owned 200,000 sqm of lands, worth over $20m, with practically very little equity investment. He started working in developing on these lands the region's best golf resort that he named 'Ahlam'.

In 2009, Chahe began the development of various mid-size affordable residential projects, as he foresaw a slow down in the luxury market. Through his personal contacts and friends, he entered into joint ventures where landowners offered their land to SAYFCO, for the company to develop, market and sell. This was a new concept, which Chahe termed as “Service Agreement”, where profits were made without any equity, and SAYFCO had a margin on construction cost, sales fees, and success fees. These partners clearly stated that the only reason they were entering into such ventures with SAYFCO was that they had trust in Chahe.

During the same year, Chahe established a page on Facebook for SAYFCO and was the first real estate company to do so. In less than two years, SAYFCO’s page on Facebook attracted over 4,000,000 fans, making it the #1 real estate company worldwide on Facebook. Facebook contacted Chahe to congratulate him and asked for permission to prepare a case study on Sayfco, as each project launched on Facebook was always sold out within the first few weeks. And as usual, when Chahe initially came up with this marketing strategy of using Facebook and had only a few hundred fans in the beginning, his family kept discouraging but, in the end, Chahe proved them wrong.

In 2010, Chahe entered into several service agreement projects, as SAYFCO was becoming a famous real estate brand, and landowners wanted to benefit from this name to sell and build projects on their lands. SAYFCO sold over 500 units in less than a year and became the leading real estate company that year. Chahe was voted as the Man of the Year at the Yearly BIAF ceremony and was on over 20 covers of regional magazines.

During these years, Vahe stopped going to the construction sites completely and only came to the office for an hour to give his pessimistic speeches to Chahe, wash his car, joke around with the concierges of the company headquarter, or to withdraw money. He only cared to withdraw his shareholder loan, which accumulated interest of 10% per year, in addition to his $25,000 monthly salary and was making monthly withdrawals of over $100,000.

In the same year, Serge returned to Lebanon and joined the company as a CFO and VP. He helped SAYFCO boost its financial management. Serge saw in Chahe a visionary and a leader who could make SAYFCO the largest national company. He, therefore, agreed with Chahe’s all major decisions from the very beginning. This made Vahe ruthless and negative towards Serge, giving rise to personal problems between Vahe and Serge. Serge had worked in Texas as a merger and acquisition auditor and saw no future in the USA as he had no family there and was not able to save any money. So he decided to return to Lebanon. Vahe couldn’t digest the fact that Houry gave Serge her 33% shares in SAYFCO. So now, Vahe, Chahe, and Serge had equal ownership in SAYFCO.

Towards the end of 2010, Vahe became more and more unstable and started posting his half-naked pictures on Facebook, showing off his new physique. He spent most of his day taking care of his new German Shepherd dog and whenever he came to the office, he would only talk about fat percentage in his body. In fact, on several occasions, he had these “out of place” conversations with the company’s lawyers and executives, who started worrying about Vahe’s unstable and unprofessional attitude.

Due to Vahe’s embarrassing adventures, Chahe was concerned about SAYFCO’s image. And to add to it, he found out that Vahe was selling equipment and steel from the construction sites and pocketing the funds, besides taking around $5,000/week and registering them as workers in the company’s projects. Chahe and Serge decided to remove Vahe from the management to protect the company but allowed him to continue as a board member and shareholder. Also, Vahe’s wife Grace supported Chahe and requested that they keep Vahe as he had two kids and needed money to live on. She also assured that she would personally make sure that Vahe would stop being negative and insulting Chahe.

Following this, Vahe one day informed Chahe that he had decided to sell his shares to a friend of his, Roger Saade, and wanted to know the real value of his shares. At the end of the conversation, he was convinced that $3m would be fair value and told Chahe that he will proceed with the sale and then move to Canada with his family. Chahe secretly recorded the entire conversation.

 

Houry, not being able to cope with this family matter, asked Chahe to reimburse her $5.5m shareholder loan in addition to her sister’s $2.5m investment. In return, she said she would give full release to the company in addition to her 1% symbolic share. Chahe agreed and gave her a $12m villa in addition to $500k in cash to register the villa in her and her sister’s name. He thus eventually gave them much more than they owed. Houry was very happy and signed all the required documents, and in the last meeting with the lawyers, she said that now that she had received her money, she didn’t care what happened to her sons. Again, Chahe secretly recorded the conversation where Vahe convinced Houry to take the $12m villa in return for her shareholder loan.

Once Houry’s issue was resolved amicably, Vahe asked Chahe to buy his shares, which he was supposed to sell to his friend, for $4m instead of $3m. Vahe blackmailed Chahe that if his shares in the company were not purchased at $4m, he would start hurting the company’s reputation. Again, he claimed he wanted to move to Canada. He had already withdrawn millions of dollars in just a few years without even being involved in the management. He had also withdrawn a salary of $25k per month for years without ever working. However, to avoid further issues, and thinking that, at the end of the day, Vahe was still his brother, Chahe agreed on the amount although Serge was completely against it. As the lawyers were preparing the necessary documents, Chahe found out that Vahe was planning to open a real estate company using the Yerevanian name, and was also soliciting SAYFCO employees to leave Chahe and join his new company. He was even telling these employees that in a matter of weeks he would take over SAYFCO.

Vahe’s new lawyer contacted SAYFCO’s lawyer and told him that if Vahe does not receive $10m for his share, they will file many lawsuits to ruin SAYFCO’s image. In fact, Vahe’s lawyer also added that the entire judicial system was in his pocket, (which turned out to be true as after a few years this lawyer was appointed Minister of Justice). Even though Vahe had initially agreed to $4m (other than the $6m he had already withdrawn in the last few years), this new offer from Vahe’s lawyer was pure blackmail. Chahe refused to be blackmailed.

Houry took side with Vahe and they both started visiting the banks and warned them to stop working with the company, lying that the company was almost bankrupt and that Chahe and Serge were stealing money. They even met with SAYFCO’s project partners and told them that SAYFCO would not be able to continue. Houry even lied to everyone that Chahe had thrown her out of the company without giving her rights. The Tachnag Armenian Political party too sided with Vahe.

To add to it, Vahe’s father in law, Mr. Daniel Zaroukian, came from Canada to Beirut and helped him in his attempt to ruin Chahe and SAYFCO’s image so as to pressuring Chahe into giving Vahe his over-inflated figures. He also personally visited Chahe’s partners and insulted Chahe before them and urged them to stop working with the company.

 

Meanwhile, Vahe was threatening construction workers at the project sites to leave the company. Five of these workers listened to him and left without warning. One of these workers, on orders from Vahe, started threatening the remaining workers to also leave, claiming that Vahe will take over the company in less than a month, and all those who stayed would be fired once Vahe took over. Chahe found out that this worker was living at Vahe’s house and sent detectives, following which the worker was arrested.

The following day, a lawsuit was filed against SAYFCO, Chahe, and Serge for forging Vahe’s signature in one of the shareholder’s assembly, which stated that SAYFCO should give a corporate guarantee to both banks it works with and with whom it has a $3m credit facility. Vahe claimed that he was not aware of these bank facilities, as he had forgotten that he himself had given a personal guarantee in front of the bank executives and the public notary and that he had withdrawn many cheques from these banks for his personal use. Case closed.

Chahe could not wait and look at Vahe discrediting SAYFCO. Chahe was compelled to file a lawsuit before the public prosecutor with facts and proof of Vahe stealing money from SAYFCO for the past few years and registering them as workers on various sites of the company. After interrogating for 1 week, the prosecutor arrested Vahe and charged him for theft. However, Houry brought a bank guarantee to prevent Vahe from going to prison, and the file was transferred to the Penal Judge.

Amidst this internal turmoil, Chahe continued growing the company and, in 2011, signed a development service agreement to develop the tallest tower in Mount Lebanon consisting of commercial and residential units (Crystal Towers). Only 12 days after its launch, the entire project was sold out. This confirmed the confidence that people had in SAYFCO and it showed that Chahe’s vision in creating a real estate brand and the new way of marketing had made SAYFCO the leading real estate company in Lebanon.

Following these record-breaking sales, many landowners and investors rushed to SAYFCO to develop successful projects.

 

As he was not able to do anything legally against SAYFCO or Chahe for over a year, Vahe filed another baseless fabricated lawsuit in the summer of 2011 with a Mount Lebanon Prosecutor Judge who was not only closely related to the head of the Armenian Party which was supporting Vahe but also belonged to the same political movement. Through this fabricated lawsuit, the Judge pressured Chahe by threatening him that he would get him arrested and charge him for no reason if Chahe did not pay $10 million dollars to Vahe. After three months of indirect threats, and in one case, keeping Chahe at the Police station for an entire day without any legal reason, Chahe filed a complaint against the judge and asked for his removal, because all points in the lawsuit were baseless and proven to be fabricated through documented files. The judge was removed and replaced by another.

After tolerating all these pressuring tactics by Vahe, Chahe still decided that Vahe was his brother and, through a friend, sent him a message that he was still ready to pay him the $4m they had initially agreed to (which was already much more than Vahe’s share value). Vahe refused and said he now wanted $15m or he would destroy SAYFCO.

The new judge took over the file and after scrutinized it and reading the court’s auditor’s reports and all other investigation documentation, he saw that Chahe was 100% clean and was not involved in any embezzlement as Vahe had claimed. However, as fortune would have it, only a few days before he was to close the file, the case was transferred again to the previous judge. The latter ordered to re-start the investigation. Once again, the judge resorted to illegal tactics to bully Chahe. Therefore, Chahe re-filed a complaint to remove the judge. And once again, the judge was removed. This time the judge was sent to the judicial Investigatory committee and was penalized for having taken sides. The judge has been in a coma for over 2 years. Karma?

The file finally went to the main Prosecutor Claude Karam who was obliged to close the file. Prior to closing the file, he met with Vahe and Chahe and urged them to settle the matter amicably as it was hurting both parties. He called both the brothers to his office and asked them to write on a piece of paper the amount that each was ready to pay to buy each other’s shares and said that the highest bidder would win. Chahe wrote $5m and Vahe wrote $7m. So Vahe was ready to pay $7m for Chahe’s shares and was given the chance to do so. However, Vahe refused to proceed and asked for Chahe to buy his shares at $7m. In order to settle the issue once and for all, the judge urged Chahe to increase his offer a bit and pay Vahe $6.6m. Chahe agreed and the matter was settled in April 2012.

Putting this thorny phase behind him, Chahe continued to focus on making SAYFCO the company he had always dreamt of. He, along with Serge, now owned 100% of the company’s shares.

Vahe later found out that when he was busy attacking the company, his wife was having a love affair with her fitness trainer. She later left Vahe, and they divorced. Vahe now lives in a small apartment in Beirut with his mother as they sold the family house in Mtayleb.