x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Freed UAE inmate who served twice his sentence dreams he's still in jail

Koonimookel Abdullah, 61, spent a decade in prison because he could not afford the Dh325,000 a court ordered he pay as part of an embezzlement conviction in May 2002.

Koonimookel Abdullah with his wife, Kamarunissa, and grandsons at their home near Calicut in India's Kerala state.
Koonimookel Abdullah with his wife, Kamarunissa, and grandsons at their home near Calicut in India's Kerala state.

DUBAI // A Sharjah security guard released from Dubai Central Prison last week after serving twice the length of his five-year sentence has nightmares that he is still in his cell.

Koonimookel Abdullah, 61, from Kerala state, India, spent a decade in prison because he could not afford the Dh325,000 a court ordered he pay as part of an embezzlement conviction in May 2002.

He was finally released on Thursday and deported to India after the Ruler's Court and Public Prosecution accepted his mercy petition.

"I wake up shaking and very scared that I am back in jail, and my wife has to remind me not to worry," said Abdullah, from his home in a village near Calicut, southern India.

"The day I left the jail, it was almost unreal, like a dream. It was never possible that I could ever pay that amount so there were many days I thought I would never get out of jail, but I believed in God."

The Indian Consulate paid the fare home for the former baker-turned-watchman, and the Indian Community Welfare Committee raised funds to help him. The Dubai-based committee had filed a mercy petition two years ago and resubmitted the plea this year.

Abdullah and his family maintain he is innocent and was duped by a court official, MS, who lived in the Sharjah apartment block where he worked for 15 years before his arrest.

His problems began during Ramadan in 2002 when he accepted Dh1,500 in three instalments as zakat, or alms, from the official responsible for administering diya, or blood money, in court.

Abdullah said the official convinced him that if he signed some papers, he would receive charity from wealthy Muslims during Ramadan.

The official opened a bank account in Abdullah's name with the papers and transferred Dh650,000 in unclaimed diya money from the court. He later withdrew the cash and left the country.

When he returned, he was convicted and jailed along with Abdullah, and the court ordered each to pay half the amount embezzled.

Indian aid workers said his situation was typical of dozens of illiterate workers.

Now back home, it was an overwhelming weekend for Abdullah, meeting family in the small house built from his savings.

Like thousands of workers, he sent home most of his Dh500 monthly salary and lived on money earned from odd jobs such as washing cars.

"I have a great sorrow inside me that I lost 10 years of my life when it was not my fault," said Abdullah. "I feel pain and heavy sadness. I do not have a grudge against anyone, but I feel sad I could not look after my family. Others completed my duties."

Funds quickly dried up when Abdullah was in jail. His brother and brother-in-law helped with daily expenses, his daughter's college fees and wedding costs. For the past three years, his son-in-law supported the family.

But, for now, happiness has overshadowed concerns about the future.

"He has become thinner, lost hair and is always cold and shivering," said Abdullah's wife, Kamarunissa. "The future is disturbing but now we are just so happy."

His three-year-old twin grandsons greeted him, along with 40 relatives and friends who had gathered for celebrations on Friday.

"I wanted my children to join in our prayers, so I explained that they had never met their grandfather because he was in jail," said Roshna, Abdullah's daughter.

"The children could not understand what jail meant so I told them that he was in a locked room and we must pray so he comes out."

Amid the celebrations, Abdullah had advice for young people in his village dreaming of jobs in the Arabian Gulf.

"First I will say they can now find good jobs in India, so why go to the Gulf? Then I will tell them to be careful because people can be cunning. They must never sign anything they do not understand.

"They must ask for advice from others with more experience. Then they will not fall into a trap like I did."

rtalwar@thenational.ae