x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Elite police to take on financial criminals

Police officers are taking an eight-year course to build expertise in prosecuting cases that currently require financial specialists.

ABU DHABI // The UAE is training a new cadre of specialised police officers to deal with financial crimes, officials announced yesterday. When they complete their eight-year course, the officers will have studied overseas, earned PhDs and worked at the UAE Central Bank.

The aim is to build expertise in investigating and prosecuting cases that currently require financial experts to be brought in from foreign authorities. "It is financial crimes that are the big challenge ahead," said Maj Gen Nasser al Naimi, the director general of the Minister of Interior's office. "Financial crimes should be our obsession, financial security. We have to prepare ourselves. We need the proper army for that."

To build that "army", top graduates of the four-year police academy spend a year earning a degree in banking. After that comes six months working at a bank in the UAE and another six at the UAE Central Bank. Then the trainees are sent overseas - to Britain, the US and Australia - to continue their studies and work alongside financial crime investigators in those countries. Forty officers, who began their training in 2005, are now in that phase of the programme.

When they complete their studies abroad, they will have earned master's degrees in financial criminal investigation. In the UAE, they will continue graduate studies in organised crime, earning PhDs. "In this way, we have an officer who is highly trained in policing and at the same time highly qualified to conduct financial investigations," Gen al Naimi said. Gen al Naimi, speaking at a global security conference in the capital, said that in 2008 there were 50 cases of fraud, including credit card fraud, in the city. So far in 2009, there have been 207 fraud cases, not including card fraud.

"We expect financial crimes to increase and become one of the main problems in the next 10 years," he said. "Criminals will be able to commit their crimes while sitting in their offices. There has to be a shift in the way investigation is done." This year Abu Dhabi launched its financial crimes court. It has already handled major cases such as the embezzlement of Dh423 million (US$120m) from an Islamic finance company.

Two former chairmen and three board members were sentenced in June after investigators showed how the men used claims that the company was "risk free" to attract investors, then transferred huge portions of the funds to their own accounts. "Justice is the principal pillar in achieving the Government's strategy and promoting investment and growth in the economy," Sultan Saeed al Badi, the undersecretary of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, said when the financial crimes court was announced in April.

"These new courts are the first of a kind in the emirate, and we have already started enacting these courts and expect that more of these specialised courts will be created as needed." But prosecution of such cases calls for specialised investigators, Gen al Naimi said. "Previously, when a person was arrested for financial crime, we were left with the choice of finding a financial expert to conduct investigation for the police," he said.

"As financial crimes increased, the challenge got bigger and we urgently needed specialised officers. We spent quite a while studying this problem. How can we bring about an investigator who is familiar with finance?" The solution was devised four years ago but revealed for the first time yesterday, as the first batch of trainees neared the end of their foreign studies. They represent roughly the top 13 per cent of their police academy classes.

"They should be good at maths and have high marks in science," Gen al Naimi said at the conference, addressing top-ranking police officers and security experts. "We needed to find a person who knew about financial issues and who could at the same time investigate these crimes." He said that conventional crimes - those involving guns and violence - were decreasing and being contained. Dubai also has placed a priority on fighting corruption and financial crimes.

Since a massive anti-corruption inquiry was launched this year, fraud involving billions of dirhams has been uncovered, officials said, including one involving the government-owned Dubai Islamic Bank and another involving Al Boom Holdings. hhassan@thenational.ae