x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Landmark ruling for financial crimes

Judgment brings hope for prisoners who have already served their sentences but remain in jail over unpaid fines and outstanding debts.

DUBAI // A landmark judgment could lead to an earlier than expected release for prisoners convicted of financial crimes who have served their sentences but remain in jail because of unpaid fines and penalties.

Previously, prisoners have remained in jail until all their debts were paid, but a ruling yesterday by the Dubai Criminal Court of First Instance limits such extra jail time to a maximum of six months. The decision comes after a protest by Ibrahim al Tunaiji, a 39-year-old former Central Bank assistant treasurer who has been in prison four years longer than his sentence decreed. The father-of-four has been awaiting release since 2006, after being convicted in 2003 of embezzling Dh3.1 million (US$844,000) in coins and bank notes. Al Tunaiji had repaid almost half of the amount after his property and bank accounts were seized.

Al Tunaiji's protest was filed by Dr Raed al Awlaky, his lawyer, against his extended incarceration on April 29. It was the first of its kind to be filed in a UAE court, according to Dr al Awlaky. "It took us a while to register this case with the public prosecution, as they informed me that they have never encountered such a request," he said. According to Judge Hamad Abdel Latif, who issued yesterday's ruling, if the prisoner is unable to complete his debt repayments and all other options are exhausted he will be remain in prison one extra day for each Dh100 owed. However, these extra days of incarceration are limited to six months.

Al Tunaiji was convicted in November 2003 of embezzling public funds and concealing stolen property during his tenure as an assistant treasurer at the Central Bank's Old Souq branch in Dubai. The crime took place between December 31, 2000 and September 7, 2002 and the stolen money was all in coins and bank notes. An investigation was conducted by the Dubai police Financial Crimes Section in 2002 after they were alerted by the Central Bank. The bank's executive manager at the time told police that he had discovered an estimated Dh900,000 missing from the bank's safe and that he suspected foul play.

He told prosecutors that the day before he had noticed that the safe's cashier and treasurer were preparing a consignment of coins worth Dh2m to be sent to the Central Bank's Ras al Khaimah branch and that a few coin bags from the consignment were missing. A cashier contacted the treasurer to find out what had happened and was told by al Tunaiji that he was aware of the shortfall and would be returning it to the safe a day later. He gave the cashier Dh800,000 the next day and promised to pay the remaining Dh100,000 later. He told the cashier that he had hidden it somewhere in the bank's safe.

Al Tunaiji later confessed to Central Bank officials that he had already spent more than Dh3m of stolen money. He said he had been motivated to steal because of his poor financial status and the fact that he was responsible for his children, his brothers and sisters, and his parents. A joyful al Tunaji said yesterday he was looking forward to being reunited with his family. "I am happy for the ruling and I cannot wait to see my children, who I have not seen in years," he said.

No formal date has been set for his release. @Email:amustafa@theantional.ae