Dubai set to release British businessman

Posted on July 23, 2012

British businessman Safi Qurashi is set for release after a panel of Dubai judges found him innocent of most charges that led to his imprisonment in 2010 for bouncing postdated cheques, his family says.

Mr Qurashi, a real estate developer who went on hunger strike for seven weeks to push for a review of his case, had two of his three cheque cases overturned by the court of cassation, striking off four years from his seven-year sentence.

    His family says the advocate-general has sent a letter to Dubai’s central prison advising that Mr Qurashi, 43, should be now released as he has already served three years.

    The family, who expect his release on Monday or Tuesday, is confident he will also be found innocent in the third case, to be heard on July 30. “We, especially his kids, are delighted,” said one of his relatives.

    The not-guilty appeal verdict marks the end of their long campaign for his release.

    Mr Qurashi, who had plans to develop a man-made island within an archipelago of 300 artificial isles off the Dubai coast, has long pleaded his innocence, saying he had cleared the debts that the bounced cheques were written to secure.

    In the United Arab Emirates, not honouring a cheque is a criminal offence that often leads to a custodial sentence.

    About 20 inmates this year launched hunger strikes to protest against the emirate’s harsh debt laws, arguing that they were victims of Dubai’s property crash, not criminals.

    Dubai officials have publicly backed jailing debtors, arguing that it helps recover debts more efficiently.

    The emirate, helped by an economic recovery led by tourism and trade, has managed to reschedule several large debt maturities owed to creditors since a landmark $25bn restructuring signed by creditors to government conglomerate Dubai World last year.

    Mr Qurashi has been critical of the apparent reluctance of British officials to intervene in his case. UK officials say they have done as much as they could to help him.

    Another inmate who went on hunger strike, Zack Shahin, the former chief executive of a government-linked developer, this month secured bail after US officials criticised his situation.

    Mr Shahin was arrested more than four years ago on fraud allegations that he denies, and has faced several trials on multiple charges without any conviction.

    The implications of Mr Qurashi’s verdict are unlikely to be relevant to other inmates who launched hunger strikes to draw attention to the emirate’s debt laws.

    Unlike Mr Qurashi, who has long claimed he was duped by counter-parties, many of them say they wrote the cheques in good faith but could not honour them as recession hit the emirate.

    With cheques underwriting financial transactions from mortgages to corporate loans, many debtors, including homeowners and managing directors, have been imprisoned.

    The hunger strikers argued that the law should be interpreted to ascertain whether there was any criminal intent.

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