Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

90 churchgoers conned out of life savings in Exential forex scam see glimmer of hope

None have been paid the promised profits, or received their initial deposits back but a civil court order ruling that Exential should repay a client Dh1 million has offered hope.

DUBAI // Filipino members of the church group Couples for Christ were some of the last to invest in the doomed Exential currency scheme, which claimed to offer a 120 per cent profit on each account opened for US$25,000 (Dh91,800).

Few parishioners had financial experience or knowledge of complex investments but the numbers promised by Exential’s relationship managers were too good to resist.

More than 90 churchgoers opened accounts in December 2015, not long before the complicated foreign exchange fund collapsed in March last year.

None have received their initial deposits back but the Dubai Civil Court order ruling that Exential should repay a client Dh1 million has offered hope.

Bong Cruz, a community leader at Couples for Christ, invested his life savings of $40,000 to help secure the futures of his wife, a nurse, and their two daughters.

“I had given up on recovering any of the cash,” he said.

“We opened our accounts at the same time as others from our church group. I think we were the last ones to invest. This court judgment has given us hope. The money was hard earned.

“I have been in Dubai for 26 years and never invested before. Maybe I was greedy but it was a mistake.”

Mr Cruz, a technical manager who lives in Sharjah, had planned to get a lawyer but baulked at the cost. Now he is filing his own case.

Reams of emails, transcripts and notices from Exential relationship managers to clients could be crucial in proving liability against the company that targeted certain demographics, such as airline cabin crew and religious groups.

Mona, also a member of the church group in Jebel Ali, was encouraged to deposit $25,000 by an old friend who had invested in Exential and was boasting about significant profits paid into his account each month.

“We gave all our money in October 2015 and the account was opened the month after,” Mona said.

Like her friends at Couples for Christ, she did not receive any profits.

Exential offices in Arenco Tower, Dubai Media City were closed down months ago and queues of furious investors set up camp to demand answers.

Those queues have now moved to the offices of Dubai Civil Court, as more investors submit legal papers to pursue similar cases in the hope of recovering their money.

“When I was told there could be hope for the rest of us, we were so happy,” Mona said. “We knew the case was a problem but, as Filipinos, we did not want to make a big fuss out of it.

“We felt we had been cheated once and we did not want to elaborate further or push it with court action. A lawyer wanted Dh12,000 a case; we simply couldn’t afford that. We had already lost so much.”

The group is now seeking free legal aid from elsewhere and have been assured the process can be straightforward.

“The first thing to prevent some investors from filing a case is the thought that they needed a lawyer, when in fact they don’t,” said Barney Almazar, a director at Gulf Law and head of legal aid at the Philippine embassy and consulate in the UAE.

“Clients can go by themselves and present themselves in front of the court. They do not always have to speak, just submit their complaint in papers.

“If what we have filed is taken on as a criminal case, and the relationship managers are proven to have known about the details, they can also be held liable.”

Lawyers representing Exential on Monday said it did not accept the case, as it was filed by a party “who lacks capacity”. It denied it was indebted for any amount in favour of the plaintiff.

nwebster@thenational.ae

Updated: April 10, 2017 04:00 AM

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