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  • Radha Stirling

Detained in Dubai is calling on Embassies to warn their citizens of the hidden risks for expats and

"While a number of foreign governments have warned citizens about breaking the laws in Dubai and have even updated them to include the promotion of charities online or other social media violations, one would think that if one follows the advice and avoids breaking the laws, that one's visit would be safe and trouble free.

If visitors review their Embassy's travel advice, they would know that it is unlawful to use rude gestures or be offensive to others and think that if they avoided such behaviour, they would be fine.

What is not clearly explained by the government bureaus is that false allegations are prevalent in the UAE and can lead to lengthy detentions and prosecution. Even if one hasn't broken the law, if another person *accuses* them of breaking the law, they can be prosecuted, even in the absence of evidence. The legal system allows it and prosecutors will proceed on hearsay alone.

A common example of this is where a tourist or expat reports a driver (or appears as though he will) for dangerous or reckless driving. The reckless driver will in return, make false allegations that the tourist or expat made rude gestures or was abusive. This is a common way for the reckless driver to avoid punishment. The tactic forces the expat to drop their allegations or in some cases, is just used to vindicate the driver. Locals will be favored by the police and court system and many expats have ended up prohibited from leaving the country throughout lengthy proceedings. During this time, they can lose ten's of thousands to legal and hotel bills. Some have relied on charities to accommodate them while others have been made homeless.

False allegations are a way of life in the UAE and the legal system allows it, by not placing any realistic burden of proof on complainants.

False allegations are common for small cases, such as driving offences, all the way through to the highest levels of business. Even at the top levels, false allegations have been made for the sheer purpose of appropriating funds or property from expats. If for example, a local sponsor makes criminal allegations against their foreign partner, the foreigner is almost powerless to achieve justice in the UAE. This is partially due to corruption, partially due to the favouritism towards local residents and partially due to the haphazard state of the judicial system. Judges, police and prosecutors are largely untrained and inexperienced and tend to wish to favour those who seem to have the most power and authority in a case. The rules of evidence are outdated and not up to par with "older' countries. A Prosecutor's opinion is taken with greater weight than it should be.

We have been witness to and participated in thousands of cases over the past decade in all areas of law and at all levels. We have seen hundreds of expat businesses misappropriated via the UAE's legal system, often leaving expats with no recourse except to flee after having lost their entire life savings. We have seen properties deliberately stolen and hundreds of millions of investment funds have been lost. In a number of cases, we have seem the common tactical move of misusing the Interpol database to prevent business partners from returning to the UAE, thus preventing them from being able to seek civil justice through the local courts. What a perfect way to steal foreign investment!

The fact is, the legal system has not been moving along at the same pace as the country's physical growth and if people were aware of the extent of injustice there, they would think twice about risking their lives and money. The UAE's PR machine is churning at an unprecedented rate to hit their targets for the 2020 expo and their government's target of becoming the world's most visited city. That is all well and good, but not if the media promotion of being a modern and accomplished city is just a facade.

The UAE government and even the royal families have also been known to misuse the legal system there, very much to their advantage and while they have a flawed judiciary to hide their corrupt ways and a media system to hide it, there is very little incentive to improve or change.

A very simply example of this includes the UAE's most prized lawyer (& friend of the ruler), Mr Habib Al Mulla. He is the Chairman of the 2nd largest international law firm, Baker & McKenzie and head of the UAE's Arbitration body. He has spoken about the flaws in the legal system, even corruption, but he has used the system itself to his advantage. He illegally represented both parties in a law suit, playing one against the other, without one party's permission. In any other country, this would have been thrown out of Court immediately, he would have been disbarred and criminally charged. In the UAE though, he managed to get away with it (so far) and used his position to manipulate £250 million from an expat investor. The people at the top are using the unjust system to their advantage and these people are the lawmakers. They are setting an example and so it is no wonder that this kind of behaviour is common at the street level.

The UAE is a risk to tourists who do not understand this and a risk to investors and expats, even if they do understand this. Embassies therefore, need to warn foreigners that the legal system is a catalyst for wrongful accusations, wrongful imprisonments, wrongful Interpol reports and the theft of cash investments, businesses and real estate."

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