x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Forgotten bill can leave your travel plans up in the air

There are several legal scenarios in which travellers may find themselves behind bars but in most cases, the onus is on the traveller to ensure they are legally clear to travel.

Ahmed al Mongi, 28, was detained at Abu Dhabi airport after a bank mistakenly reported he had bounced a cheque. His predicament is among several legal scenarios in which travellers may find themselves behind bars in the UAE.
Ahmed al Mongi, 28, was detained at Abu Dhabi airport after a bank mistakenly reported he had bounced a cheque. His predicament is among several legal scenarios in which travellers may find themselves behind bars in the UAE.
DUBAI // Most holiday nightmares are caused by bad weather or a poor hotel, but others can be the result of something as simple as an unpaid phone bill..
There are several legal scenarios in which travellers may find themselves behind bars but in most cases, lawyers and prosecutors say, the onus is on the traveller to ensure they are legally clear to travel.
Even then it can go wrong. In 2007, a businessman named Ahmed Al Mongi, 28, was detained for two days in Abu Dhabi and Dubai over a report of a bounced cheque that had been mistakenly filed by the Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD).
Impossible, Mr Al Mongi said. He had closed his account with CBD six months earlier having cleared his dues, and received the necessary clearance letter.
But when he arrived at Abu Dhabi International Airport from a business trip in Doha, immigration officers intercepted him and placed him in a holding cell.
Only then did they tell him of what he was accused.
"I was very worried and distraught and was surprised when I learnt of the reason," Mr Al Mongi said.
The bank had filed a Dh10,000 cheque claim against him and it took several phone calls and almost two days in detention before CBD issued a letter dismissing the case.
"The police were very understanding and co-operative," Mr Al Mongi recalled. "If it weren't for their goodwill I would have endured five days behind bars until the paperwork was processed."
Maj Gen Pilot Ahmed bin Thani, the airports security chief for Dubai Police, said all reports filed at police stations appeared in the immigration system.
"The majority of arrests we make are for people leaving the country," Gen bin Thani said. "When a report at any police station is filed, that person's details are flagged up in the system.
"The person is detained then transferred to the concerned police station for investigation. This is a normal procedure and people need to clear any reports so as not to be stopped upon travel."
Court orders are also flagged in the system.
"If a person has a court order from any emirate and his or her name is present on the immigration list, the person would be detained and transferred to the concerned authority," said the Dubai chief of the Airport Prosecution Mohammed Rustum.
"Until that point, no action could be taken by the person concerned."
But on some occasions, something as simple as an unpaid Dh13 phone bill can take the gloss off an overseas trip.
HB, 39, a Syrian businessman, was flagged down by an immigration officer in Abu Dhabi in 2003 as he returned from a business trip, and told he had an outstanding Etisalat bill.
"I was told I had an unpaid bill to pay and I had to wait for a while before I was told it was a Dh13 bill that accumulated over a year or so from an old number that was unused," HB said.
"After I regained my composure and paid off the bill, I had to sign a promissory note and was let go."
Dr Ali Al Jarman, the managing partner at Prestige Advocates in Dubai, said that when a government department acknowledged a fine or outstanding bill there was a grace period, which varied from department to department.
But Dr Al Jarman said after that period the file was transferred to the legal department.
It assigns a lawyer to take up the matter up in court or file a police case. When the file reaches court, a subpoena is issued.
If the person concerned does not answer, whether deliberately or because they have not received it, a verdict is issued after 30 days.
The file is then transferred to the execution section, which issues a court-ordered payment notice. At that point the person's name goes on the immigration watchlist.
The only answer, say officials, is to run a police check before travelling.
"A person needs to go and file a criminal records clearance check at his local police station," said Gen bin Thani.
A bank official said it was the customer's responsibility to clear their name from the police system.
"We issue a clearance letter to the customer if his debts are paid and then it is his or her own responsibility to handle any previous police issues," said Jasim Al Tamimi, a bank recovery manager.
amustafa@thenational.ae