Jailed in Dubai for Debt. One Person Shares Their Experience.

A businessman who experienced the highs of property boom in the Middle East is now adjusting to life on social welfare in Wexford after his Dubai dream quickly turned into a nightmare with the arrival of the economic downturn.

Brendan Coote recently ended up in prison in Dubai following a dispute with his landlord and only the intervention of his family, who were forced to hand over €60,000 to the landlord, eventually secured his release.

After almost 12 years in Dubai, Brendan is now living in Barntown with his parents Bob and Anne Coote. Bob is a retired engineer, who worked with Wexford County Council, while Anne currently works with Oxfam in Wexford.

Brendan worked in Dubai as General Manager for event branding company CPL International LLC, which enjoyed success looking after many of the countless promotions, launches, events and exhibitions throughout the United Arab Emirates.

‘I spent ten years living the dream,’ said Brendan, ‘My favourite pastime was showing visitors around. I always did it with such genuine enthusiasm and love for the country. We were the world’s number one at this, the region’s number one at that. We had more of this and that then any other country.’

However, by January of this year, as the boom turned to bust in Dubai, the company’s business had plummeted by 85 per cent.

‘The implosion was rapid and hard. Almost overnight hundreds of firms closed and owners fled. Investors withdrew all their funding and the real estate and property development sector started to sink,’ said Brendan.

As a result of the downturn he moved to cancel a rental agreement for office and warehouse space with a local landlord.

‘Every business transaction in Dubai that involves payments or repayments over any period of time is backed up with a security cheque to the value of the total deal,’ said Brendan.

He had signed a three-year contract for office space at an annual cost of €60,000, so his landlord was in possession of nine post-dated company cheques as the rent was to be paid in four-monthly instalments of €20,000. ‘However, he had agreed on my insistence to having a “get-out clause” in the contract. Once I gave two months’ notice and two months’ advance rent I could terminate the contract and leave,’ said Brendan. ‘On sending two months’ rent and vacating the premises I was told that I could not leave. As the landlord had three years’ worth of post-dated cheques I closed the bank account and said “I’ll see you in court”. He bounced the cheques,’ said Brendan.

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However, to his surprise he found that his rental contract did not matter when he got to court. Brendan said the judge was only interested in two things: if the cheque was his and the signature on it was his. When these facts were confirmed he was taken to prison on October 5 last, which would be the first day of around six weeks behind bars for the businessman.

He spent two weeks in the first prison, awaiting sentence, and described it as a ‘cesspit’.

‘It was a jail designed for 60 people and housing over 140. It stank like the orifice of hell and housed a permanent force of local drug addicts bent on intimidating and lashing out at all newcomers,’ said Brendan.

‘It had one hole in the ground and one shower for 60 inmates. The stench and feeling of complete hopelessness will stay with me until the day I die.’

Two weeks later he was brought before a judge for what he said was ‘a total of five seconds’ and sentenced to one month in prison.

‘I had written a full defence that he had supposedly read, but nothing was said and I was led out. I was aghast. I could not speak or make a case to anyone,’ said Brendan.

After he was sentenced he was then moved to Dubai’s central prison, where conditions were much better.

After he had served his month he was due to be released and was being led away before being called back again – to be told his landlord tried to cash another of the cheques, knowing it too would bounce.

Wexford TD Brendan Howlin was among those involved in diplomatic efforts to secure his release, having been contacted by the Coote family, but it was his family that eventually secured Brendan’s release.

He said they all took from their own savings and managed to come up with the €60,000 required to pay off the landlord and secure his release from prison.

His brother Robert and sister Nadia, as well as her fiancé Andy, travelled over to Dubai, but their efforts to reason with the landlord, among others, fell on deaf ears and in the end only the payment of a year’s rent would do. However, Brendan’s release from prison had to be carefully choreographed as he said other creditors of CPL International LLC were circling and once payment was made he had a short window to get straight to the airport and on a plane home. All his possessions, from his Jaguar to the expensive diving gear, that remained at his apartment are now relics of his former lifestyle.

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‘I had a 12-hour window where the emigration computers would not be updated with new cases. At one stage I thought my creditors would all put through cheques and I’d be there for years,’ said Brendan.

He said the company he managed was itself owed a lot of money, mainly by property related companies who themselves had no way of paying due to the recession. Brendan said this ‘domino’ effect is now wreaking havoc in Dubai, where the spiralling debt problems became worldwide news last week.

On Wednesday the Dubai government announced that one of its main investment vehicles, Dubai World, could not pay its bills and wanted to suspend repayment of some of its $60 billion debts until May.

Brendan said he now has start from scratch again, having put whatever savings he had into his failing company over an eightmonth period. However, his new start will be here in Ireland, where he said he has already applied for quite a few jobs.

‘Everything I worked for is lost. If I ever go back to Dubai I’d be sent straight to prison,’ he said. ‘And without my family I’d still be there.’ A BUSINESSMAN who experienced the highs of property boom in the Middle East is now adjusting to life on social welfare in Wexford after his Dubai dream quickly turned into a nightmare with the arrival of the economic downturn.

Source: Wexford People


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