A UK based NGO has secured the release of a British woman, who declines to be named, after a month under arrest in Italy, waiting to hear if she would be extradited to serve a lengthy term in a Dubai desert jail. Her crime? She simply fell behind on her credit card payments. Radha Stirling, the CEO of Detained in Dubai tells us, “she may have avoided jail but she still suffered immense stress through the loss of her employment and accommodation.
In the UAE debt is not a civil matter as it is in the UK or other Western countries, but a criminal offence. It carries a mandatory 3 year jail term, after which the debtor has 30 days to pay their debt, or be returned to jail until the debt is settled.”
UAE banks do not negotiate. They want their money, or the debtor goes to jail. As HSBC boss Abdulfattah Sharaf told the Arabian Business newspaper: “Jailing people has worked for us. People immediately get people to come and bail them out.”
Unsurprisingly, people who take out loans in good faith, but whose circumstances change don’t wait to be sent to jail. They often flee the country to negotiate from safety.
UAE banks then turn to Interpol as a debt collection tool. Interpol does not chase debts, so UAE banks’ contacts in UAE law enforcement illegally reclassify debts as fraud, which is covered by Interpol. The debtor is then issued with a “Red Notice” and when they pass through international borders they can be detained while the authorities contact the UAE to ask if they want to extradite.
Surprisingly the UAE will often say no, because many countries will not allow extradition. Not only because of the UAE’s questionable human rights record, but because most countries do not see debtors as criminals. However the Red Notice is kept in place. The banks’ hope being that the debtor will eventually land somewhere amenable to extradition.
Radha Stirling has campaigned over a decade for transparency and accountability regarding Interpol’s dealings with its Middle Eastern partners. She says: “Interpol knows that the UAE is abusing the system and the FCO knows it too. Until there is a system of verification for Red Notice applications, and penalties for countries abusing it, these abuses will continue.”
In 2016 the UAE donated over $53 million to Interpol, and were the organisation’s largest funders.