x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Alcohol crime led to turf-war violence

The consumption and sale of alcohol is illegal in Sharjah, but officials say it is one of the most lucrative illicit businesses, creating animosity among rival distribution rings.

Sukhjinder Singh is one of 17 men sentenced to death after a man died following a brawl over alcohol. His mother holds his picture.
Sukhjinder Singh is one of 17 men sentenced to death after a man died following a brawl over alcohol. His mother holds his picture.

SHARJAH // The head of the Sharjah Criminal Investigation Division has a name for alcohol. He calls it "the mother of all crimes". Although the illegal alcohol trade is on the decline this year, almost every month in 2009, police made a bootlegging arrest, said Brig Yousef Musa al Naqbi. And many of those cases have involved violence. In early 2009, police were called to the scene of a brawl in the Sajja Industrial Area labour camps. One person was killed and four were injured when a fight broke out among more than a dozen people. Police said the cause was a turf war between two gangs, who were vying to sell illegal alcohol in the same area. Seventeen men were convicted in the fatal fight, although their appeal is ongoing. The consumption and sale of alcohol is illegal in Sharjah, but officials say it is one of the most lucrative illicit businesses, creating animosity among rival distribution rings. Officials have tried to implement harsh penalties to curb the violence. According to Ismael Abu Ezza, the Sharjah attorney general, the punishment for being found illegally in possession of or consuming alcohol in the emirate is 15 days in prison and a fine of Dh20,000, followed by deportation. Sharjah Police's Lt Mohammed Amin said that bootleggers were mostly labourers and that most arrests were made in labour camps. He said his department had received fewer reports of the crime this year compared with last year, "probably because there are fewer labourers". "Most police reports last year came from the areas where labourers lived. Bootlegging, and other crimes typically resulting from it, were widespread in those areas. This year, the trend has decreased," he said. Police inspections were conducted year-round, but the number of inspections would rise during Ramadan as "the number of bootleggers was expected to increase", he added. A slew of high-profile cases of alcohol-related violence already crowd the court system, originating in residential areas as well as labour camps such as those in Sajja. In May 2009, police arrested several youths after the body of an Asian man was found strangled in the Nassiriya area. Residents told offers that they had heard loud drunkenness in previous days, as well as sounds of fighting near where the body was found. Police also discovered an illegal alcohol store, where many youths would gather to drink in the evenings. Brig al Naqbi said at the time that there were so many abandoned, empty buildings and these were a breeding ground for crimes. Perhaps the largest Sharjah-related case occurred in January 2009, when police arrested a gang of alcohol bootleggers. The 17 men were Indians living in the Sajja Industrial Area, but police said they were operating bootlegging rings in Ajman as well. Besides bootlegging and selling alcohol, this gang was also accused of kidnappings, killing rivals, robbery and impersonating police personnel. When police arrested the men, they freed four people who had been kidnapped by the gang and were found bound with ropes. Police also found a wide range of knives, swords and traces of blood all over the house that had been raided, as well as alcohol and Dh218,000 in cash. In March of this year, the men were convicted. And in May, all 17 were sentenced to death. Their appeal has been slow to move through the court system because of difficulties in finding proper translators. ykakande@thenational.ae