x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Careful whom you trust

When this Dubai consultant lent Dh60,000 to a friend, she never imagined she would spend another Dh31,000 in a fruitless attempt to get her money back.

Illustration by Rahul for The National
Illustration by Rahul for The National

When this Dubai consultant lent Dh60,000 to a friend, she never imagined she would spend another Dh31,000 in a fruitless attempt to get her money back. Fran Healy reports Bridget Deane will never lend money to anyone again. "I lent money and thought that bank receipts and a signed IOU would be sufficient under the law, but I've found out otherwise," says Ms Deane, a Dubai image consultant in her mid-fifties who arrived from the UK in 1996.

"Now I'm Dh60,000 worse off, not to mention an extra Dh31,000 in lawyer and court fees." She remembers the day clearly. In February 2003, she ran into an acquaintance - whom she wishes to keep anonymous - at a coffee shop in Dubai. Ms Deane knew the woman, who owned a small retail clothing business in the city. Over the course of five years they had built up a professional rapport, and from time to time, Ms Deane would refer clients to her shop and promote her business.

But at this meeting, her friend had a problem. With no family and two small children, she told Ms Deane she was finding it difficult to replenish the stock in her clothing store. And she claimed her bank wouldn't lend her the money. So she asked Ms Deane for a loan to the tune of Dh60,000. Ms Deane didn't give an answer right away. Instead, she decided to ask her husband's opinion. "'Do you trust her?', he asked me. 'Yes I do,' I replied.

"I've lived to regret that decision," Ms Deane says. In March, Ms Deane travelled home to London for a holiday. From there she transferred £10,000, the equivalent of Dh60,000 at that time, from her account in the Bank of Ireland to the woman's bank account. "I e-mailed her to say I had deposited the money and I received an e-mail back saying 'thank you very much, we will draw up an agreement on your return'," she says. A couple of weeks later, they did just that. But rather than have a lawyer draft a legal document, Ms Deane penned her own. The piece of white, lined paper stated that her acquaintance would pay the money back in one year, with interest. They both signed it.

"I can't really remember how much interest she said she'd pay me," she says. "You know, I did it to help, not to gain." A year later there was still no sign of her Dh60,000. The borrower, however, was making an effort to assure Ms Deane that she would make good on the loan. "She asked if she could leave it another six months, and then I would get it all," she says. "And I said, 'sure, you need time, I understand'."

By September 2004, the store owner began making weekly promises, and then the weeks turned into months. It was then that Ms Deane knew she had a fight on her hands. But she still delayed taking any legal action, hoping the woman would come through with her dirhams. By April 2005, Ms Deane had enough. She approached a British law firm, who contacted the debtor on her behalf. The firm later told Ms Deane that her acquaintance admitted she owed the money, but was not in a position to give it back just yet.

For Ms Deane, this meant taking the woman to court. "I paid the firm Dh11,000 for the consultations over about six weeks," she says. "But as they didn't have an Arabic-speaking lawyer to represent me in court, they told me that they couldn't take it any further." Ms Deane thought that the threat of a court case would be sufficient to make the woman to pay up, but it appeared that her debtor knew how the courts work in the UAE, and the stalemate continued.

However, Ms Deane decided she couldn't back down and approached another law firm, this time one based in Dubai. First, the lawyer advised her to ask a friend to act as a go-between to contact the debtor to see if she could be persuaded to return the money without going to court. "My friend Sonia tried, but was given a sob story and a promise of the funds by January 2006." When that month came and went, she filed a court case and, beginning in February 2006, was represented by the law firm in numerous court hearings. She was advised to leave the legal battle to her lawyers. But she could not resist showing up one day to plead her case.

"I wasn't supposed to, but I wanted to be there," she explains. "I sat in the back in the female section, and when the judge called my name I jumped up and ran up to the front." She presented the original receipts from the bank showing the transfer of the pounds had gone through successfully, along with the contract she had drawn up herself. "I had to pay Dh1,000 to the court to have a professional handwriting analyst compare the borrower's signature with that on her passport," she says. Ms Deane continued to wait as the case passed through different courts and levels of bureaucracy. Finally, in April 2008, she received her terrible news.

According to the courts, there wasn't enough evidence she had given the woman Dh60,000. Ms Deane claims she was given scant information about the reasoning behind the ruling, but her lawyers advised her to stop pursuing the debt. Meanwhile, Ms Deane had paid her Dubai law firm Dh19,000, meaning that her total legal fees were now a woeful Dh31,000. "I paid over Dh30,000 in legal fees to get nothing," she says.

"I was so naive, and she got away with it. The lesson here is that if you are prepared to lend money, get a post-dated cheque or have your lawyer draw up legal documents, because only then can you put a defaulter behind bars." Looking back, Ms Deane realises that what seemed like a simple act of kindness was, in reality, a very serious contractual agreement. She advises anyone loaning money to a friend or relative to pay for the services of a lawyer to draw up a legal contract. Every relationship, she says, should be a professional one.

Although Ms Deane says she could afford to lose the money without going to the poorhouse, forfeiting the cash meant she had to forgo a holiday for three years. And she doesn't expect to see her money anytime soon, if ever. "Someone said to me that I could still pursue the case back home, as the transaction occurred in the UK," Ms Deane says. "But do I have the heart or the money to do that? No, I don't."

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