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Christopher Renehan jailed over bounced cheques in the UAE


How a man can lose 7 years of his life for civil related matters:


38 year old Irishman and father of 5, Mr Christopher Renehan is 7 months in to a 6 year prison sentence after having been arrested outside his Dubai home for bouncing cheques, a crime in the United Arab Emirates.


Christopher was the Managing Partner of construction company “Sire Contracting”.  Sire Contracting were commissioned to complete building projects within the UAE.  However, when the recession of 2009 hit, the Government bodies decided not to pay the outstanding funds, estimated to be in the ten’s of millions of dirhams. Cheques were raised to contractors on the basis that the agreement would be honoured.


Risks of doing business where corruption is rife…


Christopher’s wife informs us that she “approached the government departments requesting they settle their outstanding invoices.  The departments maintained only the General Manager could approve the payments”.  She stated that when she contacted him, she was told he would approve the invoices if she paid him USD$100,000. Unfortunately, they “could not come up with such  a large amount of money”.


Business partnership failings leading to imprisonment


When starting business in Dubai, a local Emirati sponsor is required.  While some of these relationships have been positive and prosperous, when greed gets involved, it can end in prison.  When a local sponsor accuses a foreigner of a crime (breach of trust, fraud, embezzlement etc.), he is likely to be believed and the foreigner is likely to be successfully prosecuted.  A partnership is open to abuse and many a client has found himself set up by a business partner, once a trusted friend.


Christopher Renehan and his wife informed us that they recently discovered associates of their local sponsor, have been seeking the invoices to the government departments to be paid directly to them, meaning Christopher would remain in prison for the full duration of his sentence, unable to repay the corporate debts personally.


How foreigners (and locals alike) are suffering in the UAE due to a lack of business and financial safety provisions

At least foreigners are mostly now aware of how the legal system in the UAE can let them down, even as upstanding professionals with the highest of integrity.


Where such little evidence is required to secure a conviction and Court hearings taking as little as 20 minutes, even the most ethical and respected individual can find himself serving a lengthy sentence because “someone” has pointed the finger.


The Bounced Cheque Laws need serious and urgent review


Then we have the issue of bounced cheques, a law in serious need of updating and review.  In the UAE, it is illegal to sign a cheque that bounces, no matter what the circumstances are.  I do not believe that at the time of creating this law, the law makers would have envisaged the excessive use of “security” cheques as part of daily life.  The theory behind the law was that if one wrote a cheque that bounced, they were thieves.  However, they did not consider surely that banks would offer a mortgage to client for 900,000 dirhams and in return for this mortgage that is to be paid off over 30 years, they ask for a cheque for 900,000 dirhams, knowing that the person does not have this cash.  The cheque is a requirement in order to obtain a mortgage and it gives the bank the power to imprison.


With private individuals, companies and financial institutions demanding cheques in full knowledge that the individual writing the cheque does not have the funds to cover it should it be presented, we can conclude that cheques are not being demanded for legitimate and ethical reasons.  In fact, they are being used as a bribery note… something to use to threaten an individual.  At any time, individuals, companies or institutions hold a prison sentence over most people in the UAE.  Sometimes they present a cheque topersuade co-operation.


Recently, we have seen the cases of Peter Margetts, Safi Qarashi, Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee trapped in the UAE with a complete lack of judicial accountability.  Regardless of the evidence submitted, two men here are serving lengthy sentenced, while the other two are awaiting the outcome of what seems to be a never ending trial.  When business partnerships fail or financial matters are criminalised, a whole nation’s system is undermined.


How Christopher Renehan is fighting back


On the 16th of April 2012, Christopher declared from Central Jail Dubai that he will be beginning his hunger strike.  After having attempted resolve his situation for the past 7 months, he states he is “being frustrated and denied”.  With a 6 year sentence, “it is my only recourse.  Christopher is fairly and reasonably asking for the government owned entities to pay the overdue and outstanding sums so that he can settle the debts that have left him in prison.  The amount owed far exceed the amounts due to suppliers.


Detained in Dubai Recommendations


This is the only way Christopher will be freed.  With financial laws that warrant prison sentences, business can not function normally.  All payments from companies should be made up front before commissioning suppliers, unless of course the UAE reviews its financial laws.


We strongly advise against entering into financial or business arrangements within the UAE, until such time as one can expect to be legally protected from imprisonment due to day to day business activities, including hearsay accusations, bounced cheques and debt.  The UAE has recently become quite famous for hosting “debtors prisons” and will come under intense pressure to improve its legislation to protect business people.


We hope that Christoper’s plea for assistance will be heard and encourage the government departments involved to pay for all work commissioned, understanding that a man’s life has been taken from him as a result of their refusal to pay.

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