A recent New York Times article on the perils faced by debtors in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. More needs to be written about the impossible situation in Dubai when it comes to resolving debts faced by even your average person.
I certainly have answered my share of debtor questions from people worried about their Dubai debts. Even in a modern world where certainly it can’t be true that a debtor’s prison still exists, it does. And that place is named Dubai.
The consumer debt situation is frankly, out of control. Rather than resolving debt problems, the only recourse when you lose your job or have a reduction in income is an historic approach, flee the country. I know, it sounds so two centuries ago, but it is true. Reports of thousands and thousands of abandoned vehicles at the airport in long term parking are not just interesting, but true.
Knowing that bills can’t be paid, individuals and families of workers not from Dubai, are packing up and flying out of the country ahead of police and prison for as little as a single bounced check. And people need to do this quickly and as soon as they realize that their debt situation in Dubai is going to not be in compliance with the promises made.
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What Happens When a Check Bounces in Dubai
If there are insufficient funds, the bank will return the cheque to the person presenting it. He or she can then file a complaint with the police, who will issue a warrant for the signatory’s arrest and notify airports to prevent him leaving the country.
At present, the courts judge these cases solely on whether the accused has issued a cheque that has bounced, according to Hassan Arab, the head of dispute resolution at the law firm Al Tamimi & Company.
“A bounced cheque, for whatever reason, is a crime,” Mr Arab said. “The court will not go behind the reason of a cheque.”
What is more, each transaction is considered separately. So if you bounce two cheques, those are two cases, and two sentences. Source
These are not new laws, in fact they are age old laws based on the foundation of Egyptian civil law and Islamic law, known as Shariah.
And the reason there is so much focus on the bounced check is that most financial commitments are paid by checks, many which are post-dated. Take for example renting an apartment. A renter must go to a bank and take out a loan for the entire rent due the landlord for the term of the lease. The consumer then must give the bank post-dated checks to make the loan payments. It is a system of financial transactions and customs that we would not recognize in the West.
… a rising number of businesspeople have been sent to jail for going into debt. Bouncing a check is a criminal offense here. That fact has begun raising questions about the fairness of Dubai’s laws, especially among the foreigners who make up about 90 percent of the population. Source
As an example of how dire the situation is in Dubai, take the case of Simon Ford, the founder of a site, BlueBananna.com, that operated in Dubai. When things turned tough he came to the realization that he had only one option, and that was to flee the country to try to work out some solution to his debt problems. As he left the country he published a public letter to help explain his situation. A letter which typifies the experiences of many in similar situations.
Dear all bluebanana.com customers, suppliers, and people whose lives have been effected,
I wanted to write a letter to the Dubai public to apologise for the set of circumstances that have lead to the closure of bluebanana.com and my departure from Dubai.
I am not trying to justify that what has happened is morally correct, it most certainly is not, but there is a very stark reality in doing business in UAE which unfortunately results in the most horrible decisions having to be made.
We have continued to work with financial institutions and suppliers over the course of the last few days to see if the business can continue in some capacity, but this has now become impossible, resulting in the immediate closure of the business.
This letter is a formal and personal commitment to repay every last Dirham to everyone who is owed money from bluebanana.com.
This includes every customer whose experience hasn’t been honoured, our suppliers who have been so supportive over the last few years and have now been let down in an unprecedented way, every bank who has believed in us and lent us money, and of course every employee of bluebanana.com, all of which have worked so incredibly hard over the course of their time with the business and have been put through absolute hell during the last few weeks and certainly the last few days.
On a personal level, I have been through the most soul destroying and emotionally horrific 4 days of my life, and am likely to continue to do so for some time as my integrity is repeatedly called into question and rumours of me stealing people’s money, amongst other accusations, grow out of control in Dubai.
The reality is I have left with nothing but the simple fact that my business’s failure has effected many people’s lives in an unimaginable way and left many people burdened financially with unpaid dues. For this I am eternally sorry and am committed to taking personal responsibility to paying back everything that is owed, no matter how long this may take.
The unfortunate reality is that the businesses debt accumulation has grown exponentially since the last quarter of 2008, with further liabilities being accumulated with the desperate objective of keeping the business alive and avoiding what so many other businesses have done, simply stopped paying their staff.
Tragically, the debt of the business reached a level on Thursday 18th June that personal threats were being made against me and my family which left me no choice but to leave 4 years of passion behind and take my family out of the country before start of business Sunday 21st June.
I have since been informed that certain individuals arrived at my place of residence in Dubai at the start of Sunday, confirming that the follow through on many of the threats was very real.
I am not running away from debt, I am purely protecting those dearest to me and getting out of a country which, due to the lack of structured bankruptcy laws and a banking system which has zero flexibility on loan repayments, drives people to make horrible decisions.
During the course of this week, a large number of bank loan payments would have cleared from the bluebanana.com account which would have resulted in no cash left for my team to make their own financial commitments.
Removing this cash has allowed payments to be made to creditors, plus money which is currently being transferred to employees accounts in Dubai.
I apologise if this is viewed as the wrong thing to do, but I feel that my priority had to be to ensure that staff had something, if not all of their salary, together with short term loan payments to allow the restructure of personal liabilities over a longer period of time.
For those people who feel the need to create elaborate stories regarding my departure, this I suppose is inevitable, but I ask to you to consider the truth and watch as I fulfil my commitment to repay everything owed.
I have set up an email account for people to contact me with regards to specific outstanding payments, but will proactively contact all outstanding on our records over the course of the next 48 hours.
I am sorry Dubai
Multiple reports from Dubai tell a story of a legal system that is now getting so mired in debt issues that it does not have time or space to deal with other criminal issues. The police are spending more and more time chasing debtors than protecting the public from other offenses.
The government of Dubai, which is one of seven members of the emirates federation, has not given out numbers of those arrested for debt. But lawyers say the numbers have risen substantially since the global financial crisis hit Dubai last year. There have been so many arrests that lawyers and even the police have begun complaining about the pressure, saying debt should be handled in the civil courts. “Sadly now, as a police force we have been involved in a matter that shouldn’t have been under our mandate,” said Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, Dubai’s top police official, earlier this year. Source
I can offer no advice or insightful wisdom to people in debt in Dubai other than it is what it is. It is archaic, desperate, without a modern counterpart. Being in debt in Dubai can be a risk to your freedom and physical well being.
While I am not going to expressly endorse people to physically flee the country for debt problems I think the reality of the situation in Dubai needs to be seen clearly for what it is. To be honest, faced with a financial situation that was falling around me due to circumstances beyond my control, and based upon the current reality on Dubai, if I was there, I’d get the hell out as well while I could.