x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Lost passport leads to alcohol conviction

The British tourist, who is not Muslim, was convicted of illegal drinking because he did not have a licence.

DUBAI // A British tourist who went to the police to report his missing passport was himself arrested, charged and convicted of illegal consumption of alcohol, according to Dubai court records.

The 37-year-old non-Muslim man, identified as DK, was sentenced this week and ordered to pay a Dh1,000 fine. He had been free on bail since shortly after his arrest, which took place on October 3, 2010.

He arrived in the country in September and stayed with a friend in Deira. According to DK's testimony, at about 8pm on October 2 he went to a bar at the Doha Palace Hotel, near where he was staying.

He told prosecutors he drank two beers and a glass of scotch, and remained at the bar for a while before returning to his friend's apartment.

DK told prosecutors that when he was getting ready to go to bed and began to undress he discovered that his passport was not in his shirt pocket, where he had been keeping it.

After searching for it, he told his friend, who advised him to get some sleep and go to the police station the next morning to report the missing document.

But when he arrived at Al Rafaa police station to file the report on October 3, officers at the station suspected he had been drinking because of his odour.

They asked him whether he had consumed any alcohol, and when he replied yes, they arrested him on charges of illegal drinking.

DK's friend, who was not named in court records, bailed him out of detention. During the investigation, DK again confessed to drinking and consented to a blood test at the police forensics laboratory.

When the test results came back positive for alcohol, he was officially referred to prosecution.

The Dubai Court of Misdemeanours found DK guilty this week and levied the fine. Court records did not mention whether the man's passport was found or whether he has left the country.

The case illustrates what judges have called "confusing" rules about enforcement of alcohol regulations.

A chief prosecutor at the Dubai Public Prosecution said yesterday that tourists cannot get alcohol licences, making any consumption on their part technically illegal, even though it is sold in the hotels where they stay.

"I acknowledge that this is confusing and is a grey area to tourists, but to be on the safe side, they should not drink based on the fact it's an Islamic country," he said. "Tourists should stay away from trouble and not drink at all or drink in secret."

Lawyers, judges and police have said in recent months that although UAE law requires everyone - even tourists, in theory - to have an alcohol licence before drinking, the rule is not enforced as a matter of practicality.

Guidelines on alcohol consumption are left to police to enforce, according to Chief Justice Ahmad Saif of the Dubai Criminal Courts of First Instance.

A high-ranking CID official said police used common sense because alcohol was not seen as a serious threat to society. "It is not like drugs, which is a worldwide problem that has drastic consequences," he said in an interview last month. He said that even if someone walking in the street was clearly drunk, police would not arrest him if he did not have alcohol with him and was not causing problems.

Yet once a person is referred to prosecution, the law makes it clear that judges cannot simply reject the case.

A Dubai court judge who handles alcohol licensing cases said regulations were inconsistent. "The licence and the law are confusing," he said.

Federal law makes it a crime to consume or purchase alcohol without a licence, whether a person is a tourist or a resident. Muslims are prohibited by law from obtaining a licence.

The Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing in Dubai, which handles bar and club licensing, has strict guidelines regarding age restrictions, activities, entertainment and cleanliness. There are, however no rules or regulation regarding selling only to licence holders.

salamir@thenational.ae