x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Dubai conman fled to Beirut after Dh6m subletting scam

Police say a scam artist who fled the country with the 2012 rent cheques of more than 350 tenants has at least Dh6 million.

DUBAI // Police believe the conman who ran an illegal subletting racket in Dubai cheated tenants out of at least Dh6 million and then fled to Beirut.

More than 350 tenants face eviction and at least 200 landlords could lose out on rental income after the owner of Shamyana Entertainment, Haitham Al Kouatly, fled the country with hundreds of 2012 rent cheques.

“His destination from Dubai was Beirut,” Colonel Abdul Al Qader Al Bannai, the director of the Jebel Ali Police station, said. “But we do not know his whereabouts now. It is not clear if he is still in Lebanon or if he has left Beirut for another destination.

“There is an arrest warrant issued against him in the UAE and the public prosecution is also working on issuing an international arrest warrant.”

Police say each tenant has, on average, lost Dh70,000. “The amount varies from one person to another, some have paid Dh60,000 while others paid up to Dh100,000,” said Col Al Bannai. “The entire value of the scam stands at a minimum of Dh6 million,” he added.

“Al Kouatly is the only suspect in the case but investigations are under way to search for any collaborators and actions will be taken against anyone who proves to be involved in the scam.”

Al Kouatly, a Saudi national, is suspected of renting homes he did not own to more than 350 people before disappearing with the rents of at least 130 of them.

In 2009, the man tenants knew as Sam told various real estate companies he needed to rent apartments for his 500-strong staff. Posing as the landlord he then sublet the apartments in The Greens, Jumeirah Beach Residence and Burj Downtown. He required the tenants to make single-cheque payments to him for the rentals – worth between Dh60,000 and Dh105,000 – but arranged to pay the landlords in instalments of four cheques.

The scam unravelled last month when Al Kouatly fled the country and the cheques he had written bounced – prompting the landlords to approach the tenants for further payments.

Col Al Bannai said that 70 people had already lodged complaints at Jebel Ali police station and that the number was increasing.

“A special team is looking into each complaint to determine if they can be classified as part of the fraud scam,” he said.

The majority of those complaining are tenants. Only about 20 per cent of complainants so far are landlords.

The majority of the scammed tenants live in Tecom and The Greens, while there are also a few cases in Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence.

Most – 80 to 90 per cent – live in areas under the jurisdiction of Jebel Ali police station, while others fell under the jurisdiction of Bur Dubai police station.

The police are opening a separate case for each residential building affected. “We have scheduled appointments for the complainants at different times, during the evening hours, to cope with the load this case has created on the police station,” said Col Al Bannai.

Investigations showed that some of the landlords had informed Al Kouatly that they were not interested in renting their properties to him for the coming year.

“Despite this, the suspect, having an old copy of the contract and the key continued to showcase several flats and rented them out regardless,” said Col Al Bannai.

Ahmed, a tenant who signed on with Al Kouatly last month on the recommendation of a friend, said many of those affected had not yet complained to police.

“I know many tenants who have not come forward to register complaints because they have a few months to finish their lease contracts,” said Ahmed. “If they are lucky they can settle with their landlords and not be dragged into this. But how could one man spoil so many lives?”

The Real Estate Regulatory Agency has said it is investigating the matter with the Dubai Economic Department.

The agency advises all residents to contact it to verify the licence and registration of any real estate company or broker before handing over any money.

Farah Agha, the head of the Dubai Property Investors’ Group, also urged caution.

“You have to open your eyes because of the amount of scams possible. Tenants must ask for a copy of the title deed and write the rent cheque in the name of the person on the title deed.”

Addressing complaints by some tenants that checking licences and registrations over the phone is not easy to do, she said: “If you don’t get your answers on phone, go to the office. After all, it’s your money.”