UK citizen victim of identity theft held in UAE - family pleads for his release
Atif, wife Claire and 2 year old daughter Arianna
London-born Atif Khalique used to work as a taxi driver in the UK back in 2016 when he came across an advert online for a job in Dubai. Always on the lookout for new opportunities, Atif contacted the recruiter and before he knew it, he was on his way to the UAE for a job interview. The 36 year old Atif was planning to marry in the coming months, and he was feeling hopeful about a future in Dubai with his new family and a new career.
The interview went well, and he was told the job was his; he just had to fill out some paperwork and provide extensive personal details to allow the company to run a background check. He returned to the UK to await further arrangements from his new employers. Weeks passed, then months; Atif assumed he had failed the background check for some reason and didn’t get the job. In March, however, the company contacted him again, and again he flew to the UAE to fill out more paperwork, “They told me that the original documents had been misplaced,” Atif explains, “I had no idea what they were really doing with my personal information.”
Once he returned to the UK, he never heard from the company again, but he soon discovered that the whole hiring process had been a charade. “They took my personal details in order to steal my identity and obtain bank loans and credit cards in my name,” he relates, “I started getting contacted by debt collectors about defaults on loans in Dubai that I had never taken!”
A bank in Dubai hired Coyle White Devine to seize Atif’s assets through a court in the UK to pay back one of the fraudulent loans. He was preparing to fight this claim and clear his name once the case was scheduled to be heard next year. Amidst the stress, Atif decided to take a brief holiday from the telecom company where he then worked, so he travelled to the UAE on September 3rd to watch the UFC fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Poirier in Abu Dhabi. What he didn’t know was that several cases had already been taken out against him by defrauded creditors, and he had already been tried in absentia, with at least one case carrying a sentence of 2 months. Atif was immediately arrested upon arrival, taken into custody, and only released on bail after two days, with police keeping his passport.
Atif’s short holiday has turned into an almost 4 month nightmare. Though he is free on bail, he is not allowed to leave the UAE. He has lost his job at a telecom company, and the unplanned indefinite stay has drained his savings down to nothing. “I have spent over £20,000 since this all began on legal fees and accommodation,” Atif says, “The police confiscated my passport, and that makes it very hard to book a hotel room. I have been moving from place to place for months now, and I have no income. I am a father now, with a two year old daughter; my family is struggling. I am struggling. The Public Prosecutor has seen all the evidence and they know I am innocent, but still I am stuck here.”
Atif’s wife Claire, 32, tried to get the FCO involved but she was told they “cannot intervene in legal matters”. “I thought they were supposed to help British citizens in trouble overseas,” She says in frustration, “Everyone knows Atif is an innocent victim, but even the British government is not helping. It is impossible to explain to Arianna, our 2 year old daughter, why Daddy isn’t home; we try to FaceTime as often as we can just so she can remember his face and feel his presence”
Atif and his family reached out to Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, for assistance; “Atif went to the UAE in 2016 trusting in a job opportunity, based on the highly promoted image of Dubai as a place where people can make a successful fresh start. He trusted the recruiter, he trusted the company, and he trusted that the UAE has checks in place to safeguard against unscrupulous fraudsters.” Stirling comments, “On all points, the Emirates let him down. How can anyone have confidence in the UAE as a destination for expat professionals when a job application can turn into identity theft, and the victim himself is prosecuted?
“Identity theft can happen anywhere, but in a case as clear-cut as Atif’s, there is no excuse for it to drag on for over three months. Atif had not been in the UAE since March 2016, and all of the transactions on the fraudulent accounts are after that. There are transactions in the UAE when he was on honeymoon in Bali, and since he has been home in Aylesbury. The police and the prosecutors know perfectly well that Atif has been victimised, yet they continue to compound his victimisation by not allowing him to go home.”
Stirling explains that UAE banks have become exceedingly aggressive in pursuing debtors abroad, and she has frequently found herself across the negotiating table with Coyle White Devine in particular as they pursue debts on behalf of Dubai. “Atif, like so many others, could easily have been subjected to an Interpol Red Notice in addition to being tried and sentenced in absentia, as this occurs on a regular basis. The UAE, and other Gulf States have become highly belligerent in their harassment of debtors, even, as we see in Atif’s case, when the debts are not even legitimate, and the individual they are pursuing is himself a victim of identity theft.” Stirling stated that she plans to contact Coyle White Devine to clarify Atif’s case with and seek withdrawal of their UK court application.
Atif explains, “My life has fallen apart. I’m heavily in debt, my family are being threatened to be evicted from our home as we haven’t paid for last month’s rent, so this is their last month, unless I get back and start working and supporting them. I’m just in a really bad place, and whatever I do, whoever I speak to nobody seems to be able to help me, and I’m so frustrated as I’m innocent, and I don’t understand why they are doing this to me.”
Stirling is calling upon the FCO to coordinate with counterparts in the UAE to facilitate the dismissal of the charges against Atif, and is urging Dubai authorities to expedite his return home. She explains, “How the UAE handles this case will have an impact on public perceptions about the safety of considering employment in the Emirates, and about the security of their personal information when dealing with UAE companies. The authorities have failed to deal with Atif’s case properly until now, but we are hopeful that they will understand the urgency of settling this matter and getting Atif back to his family,”