DUBAI // An Indian expatriate, who asked to be identified as Ranjan, learnt the hard way never to borrow money, even from friends.
The 39-year-old, an operations manager at an oil company in Dubai, was jailed for a month last August after he borrowed Dh50,000 from a friend to pay off a bank loan.
He needed the money because he had defaulted on the loan and the bank had complained to the police.
"I took money from him because he was my friend," Ranjan said. "He wasn't really a money lender. But he filed a case against me saying I had borrowed Dh150,000. He started harassing my wife."
After spending a month in prison, Ranjan said he was allowed to leave after convincing the court he could pay the money back in instalments.
"After my release, I tried to reach a compromise with my friend and took my advocate to negotiate an amount of Dh75,000. He refused to budge and said he wanted Dh150,000."
Ranjan's employer was sympathetic and allowed him to resume work after he was released from prison. He is yet to reach a compromise on the amount and the court case is not finished. The expatriate now uses his experience to warn people.
"I tell people not to borrow from illegal lenders ... but when someone doesn't have a job or is in dire need, they turn to the blade mafia [a gang of money lenders] for quick cash. The problem is they ask for signed, blank cheques and when people don't pay back, they fill in the amount of their choice and start harassing the family."
Ranjan said the UAE police had an active role to play in eliminating moneylending gangs.
"If the police get to know, they should deport such money lenders and ensure passports held by them are returned to the rightful owners."
KV Shamsudheen, chairman of the Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust, a social organisation that helps people like Ranjan, agreed.
"It is hard for social organisations to get any evidence against the blade mafia but police actually have some proof in front of them. When people who are not involved in businesses are caught in bounced cheque cases, they should probe the matter further."
Mr Shamsudheen said the practice of lending money existed in all levels of UAE society.
"They are lending hundreds or thousands to labourers and millions to businessmen. Extravagant lifestyles are the cause for the problem," he said, adding that loan sharks could be ordinary workers, small businessmen or people holding regular jobs.
The Valley of Love, which works with blue-collar workers, said the onus to end the practice was largely on victims.
"As long as there are people there to borrow, there will be lenders," said Joseph Bobby, the organisation's vice president.