Scottish Mum abandoned for 6 years and left to pay husband’s debt after he flees the country
Morag McNeil Koussa wants a divorce. That is an understatement.
The Scottish-born former restaurateur and elite flight staff for Emirates Airlines and Royal flights met her Lebanese-American husband a few years after relocating to the UAE. They moved to Lebanon briefly, but returned to Dubai where her husband was running a moderately successful engineering company. Morag left her job and, for the next two decades, she devoted herself to raising the couple’s three children.
Morag noticed that her husband was indulging in a lavish lifestyle which she felt was beyond their means; he treated himself to expensive sports cars and seemed to relish the luxurious life of the prototypical Dubai businessman. Even though she suspected his fidelity at times, he was a decent provider, and maintaining her family meant everything to her. He was a charming and persuasive man, and Morag would not discover until much later how dangerous his manipulativeness could be.
His company was hit, like so many other small businesses in the UAE, by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-2009, and within a couple of years, he was struggling to stay solvent. His Emirati business partner refused to act as guarantor for his line of credit, which meant that he would have to surrender his passport to the authorities to ensure he would not flee his mounting debt obligations. His solution? He brought Morag with him to Dubai Courts, vaguely explaining that he had to sort out some paperwork, and then suddenly told her that the only way they could resolve the debt issues was for her to sign a set of Arabic language documents and submit them to the authorities. Morag then signed the papers, unknowingly taking on the responsibility as a guarantor for her husband’s line of credit. He left the country the same day and never came back.
Once Morag signed the papers, her passport was confiscated. Before departing, he assured her that he had enough money in a Lebanese bank account to cover the debts, and as soon as he arrived, he would transfer the funds. She never heard from him again, and found herself liable for a debt of $160,000, with no income, no savings, and no right to even work to earn the money being demanded of her.
“This is one of the most appalling bank cases I have ever seen in the UAE,” says Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and Due Process International, who represents Morag. “After over 20 years of marriage, raising three great kids, giving up her own professional career; Morag McNeil Koussa was thrown to the wolves by her husband. She was evicted from her home, unable to work or rent an apartment because she has no passport and an expired visa; she is not allowed to leave the country and has been forced to subsist on the charity of friends and strangers, and is currently living with a family in Dubai while caring for an elderly lady with Alzheimer’s disease. She has been trapped now for 6 years over a debt she does not owe and can never pay. Under the UAE’s male guardianship laws and a culture that denies her the basic rights of adult self-determination, she is not even allowed to divorce the man who betrayed her and put her in this nightmarish situation”.
Stirling says that while dissolution of the marriage would not necessarily absolve Morag of the fraudulently obtained guarantor contract, it would certainly convey to the courts that she was the victim of “exploitation, manipulation and a particularly mercenary type of betrayal by her husband”.
Morag’s three children, currently living in the UK, have written to their MPs on her behalf, “Initially, they replied, but there has been little follow up from their end, and they had stopped responding to our emails,” says her youngest son James, who was forced to withdraw from university due to the family’s ongoing financial stress. “The only one to show genuine concern is MP Daniel Zeichner, who has promised to write to the FCO and embassy. We are arranging a conference call with him this week.”
Morag has made multiple attempts to reach an understanding with the bank for 6 years, but every effort has consistently been flatly rejected.
“Our father not only abandoned us and Mum, when he trapped her with responsibility for his debt, he also deprived us of being together. My Mum has tried to negotiate with the bank, she has tried to file for divorce, she has tried every imaginable option,” James says, “But without her passport and without a valid visa anymore, no one will help her, and she can’t even have her request for divorce heard by the courts because our father refuses to cooperate. We have been separated from our Mum for 6 years. She is an innocent woman who trusted her husband and sacrificed everything to spend her life taking care of her family. She got tricked and forced into signing that guarantor contract; she doesn’t even understand Arabic and had no idea what she was signing. We want our Mum back and have been doing all we can but with the coronavirus situation it just seems impossible. We’ve run out of options. Now Mum is in her fifties, living hand to mouth. This is so unfair, and we need the UK government to help”
Stirling says that her organisation will be reaching out to the MPs already contacted by Morag’s family, Apsana Begum and Daniel Zeichner, as well as the FCO and the British embassy in the UAE.
“Morag needs to be relieved of responsibility for her husband’s debt, which she did not knowingly agree to guarantee, her passport needs to be returned, she needs to be able to file for divorce, and she needs to be allowed to go home,” Stirling concludes, “The UAE has been unfairly penalising Morag for 6 years for trusting her husband, for being victimised by his ruthless exploitation of that trust; and rather than registering a case against him for defaulting on his obligations, they are holding Morag, essentially, for ransom and depriving her of her right to freedom of movement. This is an outrageous case. Morag has suffered shock after shock, and does not even have the consolation of her family around her to help her cope. We are hopeful that the British government will be proactive in resolving this case, and that the UAE courts will demonstrate some degree of compassion for Morag’s situation and expedite her return to the UK.”