“You will go to prison if you don’t pay” - Students detained over rental car extortion scam
Detained in Dubai calls on the UK government to intervene in outrageous abuse of young students facing prosecution after a run in with Dubai rental car company.
“It’s on my terms. It’s my country, I know what’s going on. I know how this will pan out. You will go to prison if you don’t pay”, are words that traumatise Canterbury Christchurch University students James Dua-Wiafe and Stanley Kundishora.
James & Stanley’s family and friends relayed their story to Detained in Dubai in a desperate plea for help: James, 21 and Stanley, 20 flew out to Dubai on the 31st of August 2020 to celebrate their joint birthdays with a group of friends. What was supposed to be a dream holiday turned quickly into a nightmare when the boys rented a Range Rover from a local rental car agency. After a long flight, the boys were excited to get into their rental car and head off to explore the Emirate.
James, 21 and Stanley, 20 flew out to Dubai on the 31st of August 2020 to celebrate their joint birthdays with a group of friends. What was supposed to be a dream holiday turned quickly into a nightmare when the boys rented a Range Rover from a local rental car agency. After a long flight, the boys were excited to get into their rental car and head off to explore the Emirate.
James viewed the terms, and gave his passport for copying but James’s passport was retained by the company along with a deposit bond of AED 5,000 (£1,000). Unfortunately, the car suffered some damage to the wheel when it hit a low sign. When the car was
retrieved, the agency demanded AED 25,000 to cover the excess in return for the return of the passport.
Although it didn’t seem right and the insurance should have covered the damage, the boys didn’t want to mess about as they were due to fly home the very next day. The company then demanded another AED 35,000 then another 15,000. “People like you have no voice in this country” they were told, which they took to mean because they were black. “If you don’t pay, you will go to prison”. Relying on family for support, the boys begrudgingly paid and expected the passport to be returned, but the demands didn’t stop.
They attended the rental car office to request their passport back after having given £12,000 but the agents just kept talking amongst themselves in Arabic. They placed the passport on a bench but did not hand it over. James decided to take matters into his own hand. It was illegal for them to hold onto it anyway and they were using it to extort him. He quickly grabbed his passport and headed towards the exit, but several men assailed him, one grabbing him from behind and putting him in a headlock while another reached for Stanley’s arm, hurting him. James managed to free himself and left with Stanley and the passport.
Next, the boys discovered a police complaint for assault had been taken against them. They had not even raised their hands and the CCTV would prove it. Stanley and James pleaded with the police to just look at the CCTV. It was Stanley and James who were assaulted, not the other way around. To cancel the police case, AED150,000 was demanded (£30,000) accompanied by threats “It’s on my terms. It’s my country, I know what’s going on. I know how this will pan out. You will go to prison if you don’t pay.”
The boys had already paid an unexpected AED 60,000 (~ £12,000). Explaining that they came from a humble family and are only students did not help. They would not budge. The agency seemed to think they were football players, rich British kids with families who could surely come up with £30,000 cash on demand. Little did they know, James’s mother is a carer and his father a train station operator. Similarly, Stanley’s mother is a community nurse who also supports her late sister’s children in Zimbabwe. They managed to appoint a lawyer who telephoned the agency who began asking them about their financial situation and if they were footballers. At this point, James’s sister called the agency, pleading for their release. She was told if they turned up with cash, he would drop the case.
Radha Stirling, founder of Detained in Dubai who represents the families said in a statement “Both James and Stanley can not afford the never ending demands of the rental company. They have been stuck in Dubai, missing out on studies and moving from hotel to hotel, costing over £600 per week. Visiting Dubai has been the most expensive mistake of their lives, both financially and emotionally.
“This situation is all too common. We have dealt with a number of similar cases over the past decade of rental agencies extorting funds from desperate and unsuspecting tourists who just want to get home. When faced with threats of imprisonment, tourists will hand over their life savings to predatory rental car agencies.
“Dubai has spent millions of pounds marketing the city as a tourist hotspot to British nationals, full of exhilarating and luxurious experiences, but has failed to respond to calls to ensure visitors are protected from vexatious police cases, extortion and legal bullying.
“It is an absolute disgrace that locals still see British tourists as easy prey. Frivolous police cases are often registered against British nationals purely for extortive purposes. Whether it’s accusing someone of raising the middle finger, swearing, offensive behaviour or in this case, a rental agency taking advantage of some young boys, Dubai is host to experienced locals who will exploit the city’s flexible and corrupt judiciary”.
“Sadly, racism is prevalent throughout the UAE. There is a clear racial hierarchy in the UAE with Emiratis at the top, followed by other gulf Arabs, then whites and lastly, Indians, Asians and Africans. This prejudice is reflected throughout social circles as well as the police and judicial system where black people are less likely to receive fair treatment. This is one of the reasons the United Kingdom has refused to extradite citizens to the UAE.
“James and Stanley were told to expect up to a year and a half in Dubai prison. It’s very saddening to see young people traumatised this way. We are bringing this case to the attention of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed, to ask him to intervene and help James and Stanley get home”.
Stanley with his mum and brother, before the incident.
In an emotional phone call, James said “You can’t treat each other like this. Money is nothing (over people). You can’t hustle young people, it’s just morally wrong.
“I don’t think I will ever want to come back. It's just been really stressful, for my parents too. I’ve never been in trouble with the police.
“I know for a fact my mum hasn’t been coping at all. She’s been calling me, crying on the phone, my dad’s been stressed out.
“Everyone’s quite worried. It’s just a thing where they can’t afford for me to stay here. She’s a community nurse, every bit of money from her overtime, she’s basically been sending to me. We have relatives in Zimbabwe too so she is supporting them as well.”
Detained in Dubai has taken on the case of James and Stanley and are calling on Sheikh Mohammed to intervene, as well as the British FCO.
Radha Stirling discussed the case live on Facebook this morning.