x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Freed hunger strike Briton looks to new Dubai venture

Businessman Safi Qurashi, known for his hunger strike while serving time in a Dubai jail over bounced security cheques, is launching a new real estate company.

British businessman, Safi Qurashi, who was known for his hunger strike in a Dubai prison, has set up a new real estate company Q Group in Dubai.
British businessman, Safi Qurashi, who was known for his hunger strike in a Dubai prison, has set up a new real estate company Q Group in Dubai.

DUBAI // A British businessman who was jailed for almost three years over a property deal that went wrong is launching a new property company.

Safi Qurashi, released this year after going on a hunger strike to draw attention to his case, will this week launch a venture to build, sell and manage developments in Dubai.

The new company, Q Properties, will probably begin its first project next year, building up to 40 townhouses on a plot of land in the Jumeirah Village Circle, owned by the developer Nakheel. The company will also be involved in the sale of the houses, and asset management.

Mr Qurashi, 43, was imprisoned over bounced security cheques worth a total of almost Dh196 million, which he said were cashed after he had fulfilled his responsibilities.

His old company, Premier Real Estate, has been put on hold as his business partner is still in prison.

“I’m a bit wiser now about handing anyone a cheque,” he said. “It’s a worry but I think we can still do business here and avoid those scenarios.

“I’ve drawn a line under what happened and started afresh. From the day I was released I’ve been focused on rebuilding.”

Mr Qurashi’s family organised a media campaign to draw attention to his hunger strike in Dubai’s central prison.

His daughter Sara, 13, posted YouTube videos asking Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and the Ruler of Dubai, to look into her father’s case. At one stage she threatened to join his hunger strike.

Mr Qurashi’s case was sent for review by the Dubai Attorney General and he was cleared of two of the three charges in July.

But the court rejected his appeal on the third charge, the sentence for which was three years. Mr Qurashi had already served that time.

Shortly after his release, two new criminal charges were filed against him by the developer Nakheel, relating to post-dated cheques worth Dh44m for a plot of land in the Dubai Waterfront development.

Mr Qurashi said the case, still pending, was over a dispute on what constituted a proper handover of the land.

“We’re both looking for a solution and we have one on the table,” he said. “I’m confident the matter will be resolved soon.”

Before his 2010 arrest, Mr Qurashi was best known for buying Great Britain on The World development. The bounced cheques charges were for other developments. But he said plans to develop the island were suspended for now.

“I’m interested in developing something, that’s the reason we bought it,” said Mr Qurashi. “But a lot is dependent on Nakheel and what they intend to do with the rest of the development.

“In terms of utilities and infrastructure, there are too many unknowns at the moment for us to go ahead and build.”

“It’s not a sustainable solution to bring in diesel and run generators. It’s just not economically viable. We are in talks with Nakheel over what options are available to us.

Only once we’ve got some clear indication of what’s there and available to us can we put together a sensible project.”