x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Criminal networks nipped in the bud

Drugs, prostitution, human trafficking, loan sharking, murder: organised crime is a plague, and we depend upon the police to keep it out of our lives.

Organised crime, a scourge in many countries around the world, has not been high on the list of the UAE's problems. In a relatively safe society, most people enjoy considerable freedom from worries about serious crime. But that freedom should not be taken for granted.

There are few details about the size and operations of criminal gangs in the UAE - and few indications that organised crime has become a pervasive problem. But Indian community organisations in Dubai are growing increasingly concerned about illicit and menacing moneylending groups, as The National reported yesterday.

The so-called "blade mafia" is not genteel in its operating methods. Charging high interest is just the beginning: these people demand that borrowers hand over their passports or other important documents as security, and can quickly become violent if payments are slow.

Indian community self-help groups, the Indian consulate and others familiar with the situation are linking the activities of such operators to a worrisome surge in suicide - 67 Indians have died by their own hands in Dubai and the Northern Emirates this year, many of them middle-class men with white collar jobs, weighed down by debt.

The lure of easy credit from legitimate sources - credit cards or bank loans - has led many families into trouble, in the UAE and around the world. But the situation becomes much worse for those unwary, unlucky or desperate enough to borrow from ruthless criminals.

To be sure, a tough-guy moneylender with a bankroll and a couple of enforcers does not qualify as organised crime on the scale of Mexican drug gangs, the Italian Mafia or international Asian gangs. But so far the extent of this problem is not entirely clear.

And where one illicit enterprise succeeds, another may follow. Some kinds of crime involve complex trans-border coordination: human trafficking for one, drug smuggling for another. And cases of both often reach the courts. Another alarm bell was the case last spring in which nine men were convicted of stabbing a brothel client to death. Clearly, prostitution rings are another troubling form of criminal activity.

Cases like that one lead to hard questions about the inroads of crime networks into society. The UAE is lucky to be relatively free of serious crime; we depend on the police - and the public - to keep it that way.