x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Victims of Dubai Dh6 million property scam fear jail if they default

No arrest has been made in connection with Dubai's subletting scam, but police say they have pinpointed countries where suspect Haitham Al Kouatly might be.

Yusuf Pingar is one of the many landlords who has lost a lot of money to Haitham Al Kouatly.
Yusuf Pingar is one of the many landlords who has lost a lot of money to Haitham Al Kouatly.

DUBAI // Police worldwide were on alert yesterday to arrest the fugitive behind a Dh6 million apartment subletting scam in Dubai.

Interpol issued a Red Notice against Haitham Al Kouatly, the Saudi owner of Shamyana Entertainment Services who fled the country after fleecing hundreds of tenants and landlords.

“We have pinpointed some countries where he might be and we are coordinating with many countries, including some Arab countries,” said Brig Khalil Al Mansouri, head of CID at Dubai Police.

“No arrest has been made so far, but with the Red Notice alert he will be tracked around the world and hopefully he will soon be arrested.”

A Red Notice requests the arrest of a wanted person with a view to extradition, and is the closest thing to an international arrest warrant.

Al Kouatly, 34, who used the nickname Sam, spoke English with an American accent and Lebanese-accented Arabic when renting hundreds of flats and subletting them by pretending to be the owner. He absconded last month with a year’s rent from at least 130 tenants.

The scam artist also duped about 200 property owners, who now fear being on the wrong side of the law if they miss mortgage payments because of the fraud.

“We are in deep trouble,” said Yusuf Pingar, who renewed Al Kouatly’s lease on an apartment in The Greens last month for Dh85,000. The first quarterly rent cheque has bounced.

“We have to pay our mortgages, we’re not millionaires,” said Mr Pingar, director of an advertising agency. “If we miss a payment, there will be fines, penalties, maybe jail. How is a salaried person like me supposed to sustain myself?”

Mr Pingar said he hoped the Interpol Red Notice would lead to the quick capture of Al Kouatly, but cautioned: “His being caught and the money being recovered are two separate issues.”

Another landlord, Omer Ghani, rented an apartment to Al Kouatly for the past four years and renewed the lease for Dh72,000 in July.

Last month, Al Kouatly asked him to delay cashing the rent until August 31 “as a one-time favour”. When that cheque bounced, Mr Ghani went to the offices of Shamyana Entertainment to demand an explanation.

“The place was full of people and they were asking, ‘Are you a tenant or a landlord?’ I said: ‘Sam lives in my apartment’. Another lady standing near me said: ‘He lives in my apartment, too’.

“At that moment I felt the floor move under my feet. I sat down for five minutes.”Mr Ghani, who runs a start-up marketing business, does not have ready cash.

“Banks here are hard,” he said. “If you miss a couple of payments they can throw you in jail.”

He understands and feels compassion for the many tenants who now face eviction from their homes, “but there is pain on our side as well. I did my due diligence as a landlord: I checked his job, his trade licence, his original passport, and I personally gave him the keys at the home.

“Now I’m very nervous because if the municipal rent committee rules that the tenant, who I have not rented the apartment to, can stay, then I’m dead. I fund my mortgage through the rent I get. How can I come up with the extra amount?”

Dubai Municipality’s Rent Committee, the final authority on tenancy disputes, will begin hearing cases against Al Kouatly this month. The emirate’s property regulator, the Real Estate Regulatory Agency, is also investigating cases along with Dubai Economic Department.