x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Dh250m swindle funds found

Prosecutors urge victims of a multimillion-dirham con to register claims to retrieve some of their money.

Jad al Qubati planned to use the proceeds of his Dh2.5m investment to start a new business.
Jad al Qubati planned to use the proceeds of his Dh2.5m investment to start a new business.

ABU DHABI // Prosecutors are urging victims of a multimillion-dirham con to register a claim to receive some of their money back after assets worth Dh250 million (US$68m) were seized from gang members. In a swindle that came to be known as "the case of the non-existent wallet", victims were promised a return of 30 to 40 per cent on money supposedly invested in various sectors, including property and cars.

The con men had no offices and conducted their "business" meetings in hotels. Post-dated cheques were issued to reassure investors, some of whom had taken out loans to raise the money they needed. The prosecution of those responsible has already begun and assets worth millions have been seized from five key figures and 70 other defendants in the case. Initially, it was announced that 2,500 people had been tricked out of a total of Dh400 million, but now the Abu Dhabi Judiciary says that the true figures will not be known until the case continues on Sept 4.

"Those who have a claim against the defendants are required to register their claims with the prosecutor's office immediately as court proceedings have already begun," said Sultan Saeed al Badi, under secretary of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department. "The prosecutor's office has already received thousands of complaints from all emirates. All current and future claims against the defendants will be combined into a single case, for ease of prosecution."

During the first week of the trial in the Court of First Instance, the Abu Dhabi prosecutor's office, in co-operation with the police and the Central Bank, managed to seize assets worth Dh250m. A public auction will be held to liquidate the assets seized. "The accounting system used by those prosecuted was all but non-existent, leaving even the defendants unsure of how much they took in and from how many individuals," said Mr Badi. "A committee has been formed to determine how many were scammed and the amount involved."

This had, he said, "been a most time-consuming case and each defendant will be prosecuted according to his own individual involvement". During the trial, AE Qublan, the chief defendant in the case, had been surprised to learn that many of the people who were working with him were also stealing from him, withdrawing money from his personal account. A number of cases involving unlicensed, fraudulent investment companies and free agents have recently come before the courts. There was no epidemic threatening society, said Mr Badi, "but only a number of unscrupulous people trying to take advantage of others. Any involved in such schemes to defraud the general public have been, and will be, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

In June, a con man, identified as MFMB, was sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay a Dh50,000 fine. After serving his sentence, for a con trick similar to that of which Qublan and others are accused, promising investors a 70 per cent return on their investment, he will be deported. Mr Badi is strongly advising would-be investors not to deal with individuals and to use banks and established licensed companies. He believes the promise of a quick profit, lack of confidence in the investments market and the rising price of gold have contributed to people investing with illegitimate and unlicensed companies.

Qublan and his fellow defendants had allegedly tricked thousands of victims by promising monthly profits of between 30 and 40 per cent. ealghalib@thenational.ae