x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE exchange bureau boss vows to repay missing millions

Thousands of individuals, as well as companies, were left out of pocket after salaries and remittance payments were not made by Asia Exchange in August.

Mark Denis D’Souza, the managing director of Fortuna Engineering which was affected as Asia Exchange failed to pay out salaries.
Mark Denis D’Souza, the managing director of Fortuna Engineering which was affected as Asia Exchange failed to pay out salaries.

DUBAI // The boss of an exchange bureau that owes millions of dirhams to individuals and businesses has pledged to repay the cash out of his own pocket.

Police began investigating Asia Exchange in August when employers deposited their workers' Eid salaries but the exchange failed to pay them out.

It later emerged that many individuals had also lost remittances that were deposited but never transferred, and some victims have already taken their cases to court.

"I am aware of the complaints and we are helping authorities with their investigations," Ali Omran Salim Ali Owais, chairman of the group that owns Asia Exchange, said yesterday."I'm prepared to pay back the money owed to customers out of my own pocket."

The bureau is no longer fully functional because the parent company, Ali Omran Al Owais Group, is appointing new managers. "The previous team all left for India. We are looking to replace them and relaunch the exchange in hopefully a couple of months," Mr Owais said.

He could not say when all the money would be repaid, but some individuals and businesses have already received postdated cheques.

"We have had about Dh200,000 of the Dh300,000 owed to us recovered," said Vinod Alora, group director of finance at Chirag Contracting.

The company, like many other small and medium sized companies, had deposited the salaries of its 300 workers in August as part of the national wage protection system.

"We complained to the courts and then in September we started to receive some of the amount back."

Three post-dated cheques have been received from the parent company, with the last amount for Dh81,000 due on November 5.

Cheques have also been given to some individuals who complained about unsent remittance payments.

"They have given us a cheque for the end of November with the money that is owed to us," said an Indian businessman who had tried to send more than Dh40,000 to his home country in May.

"They still hadn't sent the money through and to be honest we will probably be losing out based on the exchange rate at the time but the main thing is we get this money returned to us."

The owner of Fortuna Engineering in Sharjah paid his 28 workers Dh30,800 in wages himself after his salary deposit with the bureau was not transferred in August.

"We made a complaint to the courts but were told that so many people had done so they weren't able to take the case forward.

"That means we spent Dh7,700 on putting the complaint in and aren't going to be refunded that money," said the company's managing director Mark Denis D'souza.

The company has been given a postdated cheque for February 2013 for the salary deposit.

"It's a case of us waiting to see if we can get this money back," said Mr D'Souza.

"We've exhausted every legal avenue so we're hoping this will settle the matter.

"Small businesses need to be protected more against this type of thing happening in future.

"The problem with Asia Exchange happened during Ramadan when business is down anyway and it was difficult explaining to our employees why they had not been paid that month.

"We used Asia Exchange because they were at a convenient location but we have since switched to a different company and things seem to be going well."

nhanif@thenational.ae