x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

'Get out of jail' review body helps debtors

Former convicts kept in prison over unpaid liabilities given chance to settle up so they can be deported with a clean slate.

DUBAI // Dozens of people convicted of financial crimes, who had served their terms but remained in prison because they were banned from travelling as a result of their unpaid debt, have been freed and deported under a scheme to help them put their affairs in order while still in jail.

They include people who were imprisoned for bad debts or bouncing cheques. There have been calls recently for this category of offence to be dealt with by the civil rather than criminal courts. Now a judicial committee is reviewing the cases of former convicts who face deportation but are banned from travelling pending settlement of their debts. So far it has resolved 28 cases, with a further 42 in hand. Three of the cases involve women.

Ahmed Saif, chief justice of the Dubai Criminal Courts, told The National that most of the cases dealt with by the Deportation and Travel Ban Resolution Committee involved financial crimes. "Fraud, breach of trust, and theft cases made up the majority of the crimes we reviewed during our tenure," he said. "The majority of these cases are filed by individuals and not banks." Chief Justice Saif said: "When a criminal indictment is completed and judged upon, a civil case would be filed automatically by the creditor at the civil courts.

"Upon the civil court's judgment a travel ban is issued so that the convict would not be allowed to leave the country until all dues are met." The committee was formed in May 2008 after a decree issued by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. It can either finalise a settlement or postpone the deportation until the dues are paid. When deciding which course to take, it looks at whether the debtor has enough money to cover his or her liabilities.

Yousif Hammad, a lawyer with Hammad and Associates Legal Consultants, said the scheme was designed to ensure that creditors recovered their losses. "In some cases criminals attempt to take advantage of the law by defrauding or not paying, serving jail terms and taking advantage of being deported to their home countries," he said. Over the past three years 1,561 cases of fraud and swindling have come to court in Dubai, while 26,597 other monetary crimes were dealt with between 2006 and 2008.

Dr Ali Al Jarman, managing partner at Prestige Advocates and Legal Consultants, said the former convicts who remained in jail because they could not repay what they owed included killers who had to pay blood money, people convicted of monetary crimes and those found guilty of various other offences who were unable to pay the amounts ordered by the judge. According to the Federal Penal Code, anyone who issues a cheque that bounces faces between a month and three years in jail, and a fine of between Dh1,000 and Dh10,000 (US$272 and $2,720).

Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the head of Dubai Police, said in March that people who defaulted on debts or bounced cheques should be dealt with by the civil courts, as locking them up was putting a huge strain on the police and prison system. Chief Justice Saif said the global economic crisis had so far not affected the number of cases coming before the committee, which was sent a list twice a month by the Dubai Correctional Facilities Department. It then reviewed new cases of convict travel bans.

The committee had been "very beneficial and effective in resolving disputes", he said, and similar committees set up in other emirates had also been effective. The decisions of the committee are considered categorically conclusive, and cannot be challenged by any judicial body. He said the most recent case, involving a fraud of more than Dh1 million, had been pending for seven years. "A man defrauded a major local bank in 1998; he was one of 22 defendants in the case convicted," he said. "His term was served and was due for deportation in 2002 but held back to repay his debts, a settlement with the bank was made and the man was ordered to be finally deported."

The main obstacles faced by the committee in implementing its rulings, according to Chief Justice Saif, are inter-emirates cases. "When we have a judgment issued within Dubai and a travel ban is issued from another emirate the correspondences issue poses a serious challenge," he said.