x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Accused extortionist blames victim

A Jordanian sales representative has denied threatening to kill a Russian tourist while holding her passport to ransom for Dh7,000 (US$1,900), claiming instead that the woman had tried to extort money from him.

DUBAI // A Jordanian sales representative has denied threatening to kill a Russian tourist while holding her passport to ransom for Dh7,000 (US$1,900), claiming instead that the woman had tried to extort money from him. In the Criminal Court of First Instance, SM pleaded not guilty yesterday to the allegations but admitted a further charge of consuming alcohol. According to court records, the Russian tourist, Natalia Berkalo, 35, met the defendant on August 12. She told prosecutors that she caught a ride with him to her house and on the way realised she had misplaced her passport.

"I looked for my passport in the car but could not find it," she said. The next day, she said, she received a call from the defendant who informed her that her passport had been taken by a Russian man who had told him to contact her and tell her that it would be sold if she did not pay Dh5,000. The woman said when she refused, SM threatened to kill her if she informed the authorities and increased the demand to Dh7,000.

Yesterday, SM refuted her testimony and said he contacted the woman as soon as he found her passport. "Your Honour, I spoke to her and offered to return it," he said. "She had owed someone else money and she just wanted to extort me. She told me that she wanted Dh10,000 to drop the case." Police officers told prosecutors they had listened in on a telephone conversation between Ms Berkalo and SM, with her knowledge, and said they heard SM threaten her life.

"He said he would kill her and would not return the passport if she informed policemen and he was not paid Dh7,000," said one of the officers. The court heard that SM was also being investigated for an unrelated charge of rape. Prosecutors earlier urged the judging panel to deport the defendant. At a previous hearing, the deputy chief prosecutor, Khaled al Zarooni, presented the court with the defendant's prior convictions and said in a written statement that he habitually targeted tourists, classifying him as "a danger to society and the UAE's reputation".

The presiding judge, Hamad Abdel Latif, is scheduled to deliver a verdict on January 18. The suspect will remain in custody until then. @Email:amustafa@thenational.ae