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Saturday, 16 April 2011

Safi Qurashi's open letter from Dubai jail cell


Two years ago I shot to fame as the man who bought "Little Britain" in UAE. This is my story of how my Dubai dream became a nightmare.

Safi, right, receiving an award for 'Trusted Real Estate Partner' from
Sheikh Manea Bin Hasher Al Maktoum
Safi, right, receiving an award for 'Trusted Real Estate Partner' from Sheikh Manea Bin Hasher Al Maktoum 
Dubai's property boom had just begun, when I set up a property business, Premier Real Estate Bureau LLC.
We employed five staff and business went so well that within two years we were employing 100. Our name was trusted and our reputation was excellent. We won a business award from Sheikh Manea Al Maktoum - the first in Dubai. All the hard work paid off. We sent our kids to the best school in Dubai and had amazing holidays with our families.
We specialised in beach front properties so when the island of Great Britain became available we snapped it up. We knew that the market was overheated and that a crash was inevitable, so we planned for that. When the Dubai markets did crash in 2009 we were still in a strong position and our business turnover was $1billion.
My life took a dramatic turn on Friday 15th January 2010, when two plain clothed officers arrested me for bouncing a cheque and took me to CID headquarters. I was held for eight hours in a cell, handcuffed like a criminal. No phone calls. No lawyer. Then I was transferred to Jebel Ali police station.
There I was kept handcuffed to a chair for another 8 hours. No-one spoke English. I was asked two questions: my name and whether I signed two cheques. When I answered yes, I was sent to Port Rashid jail at 4am. The prison was built to house 80 prisoners; there were over 200 people inside. There were only four showers and three toilets. People were sleeping on the floor and in the kitchen. At night it resembled a refugee camp. For the first few days I slept on a concrete floor. I had no access to lawyer or phones. When I saw the prosecutor he asked about a cheque to a Russian investor. I told him everything and asked about bail. He said no bail was allowed and he would see me two weeks after he spoke to the Russian.
Just like that, two weeks in jail. Finally, on the fifth day, I was allowed to make a five minute call to my wife. She arrived next day with a solicitor who said don't worry, you will get bail in two or three days. These days were the most difficult. I was in the same clothes for a week, with no place to wash, no soap or shampoo. For a month I slept on the bare floor.
Then the second shock. My solicitor turned out to be the defence lawyer in a (civil) case I had filed earlier against a friend of his. His offer to me was simple: drop all charges against my friend and I will help you. My lawyer and the prosecutor were college buddies and good friends. Suddenly the Dubai I knew - trustworthy, clean, crime free, non-corrupt - vanished.
Then my wife suffered a miscarriage. That was a particularly difficult thing. Nights were lonely. Trying to suppress the anger and frustration was difficult. However, human nature and the sheer will to deal with problems makes you discover qualities you sometimes think you never had. I got a new lawyer who spent five minutes with me. When I said surely he needed input from me, he responded "this is not England, we do things our way". I didn't understand then, what he meant, but now I do. There were two hearings – each one a minute long. Two questions were asked and I was sentenced: a seven year jail term. I realized that the judge had neither read nor reviewed any of the evidence. He did not establish whether I actually broke the law. A cheque bounced. Nothing else was considered. I kept on thinking this is a modern country, it has laws, it depends on foreign citizens and investment, surely its legal system cannot be so backward? Surely they are not this unjust?
I was three months in Port Rashid jail. By the time I left, more than 300 prisoners were being held in that tiny place. I was allowed three phone calls a week each lasting only three minutes. I had to, in these nine minutes, manage my business and my legal affairs, speak to my wife and worry about the wellbeing of her and my children. I had not spoken to my children for three months. The hardest thing was telling my mum, my brothers and my sister where I was.
My wife visited every week but I couldn't bear my mum and children seeing me there. Sometimes you have to put the biggest stone on your heart and carry on with life. This is what I did. I spent my 41st birthday, my wife's 40th, my son's fourth birthday and my 20th wedding anniversary in jail. My children cried for days. They wrote me great letters of encouragement, although some days it was very hard to read them through all the tears that would flow.
But my kids' faces remained strong in my eyes; what are they doing? How are they coping? How will they survive? On April 1 I was moved to the central prison - with murderers, rapists, armed robbers and drug dealers. These are not the people I belong with, I kept on thinking. But at least I had a place to sleep and it was clean. There were only six to a room and we had to share a bathroom. But it was better than sharing with 350.
I hated the indignity of court: being handcuffed and strip-searched. All of your respect and dignity trodden over. Seeing your family in the court room, paraded in front of a full court room in prison uniform. The court of appeal was no better. Dubai boasts that it has a very fast judicial process. That's right. In a one hour court session a judge hears 30-40 cases. The same judge will hear a murder case, drug case, fraud, theft, drink and cheque case all in one hour and decide the outcome of each in only 90 seconds.
There are lots of British and foreign nationals whose businesses and families are struggling. People should see it's dark side beneath the glitz and glamour. I was surrounded by businessmen whose dreams of Dubai were turned into a nightmare as they had been labeled criminals.
My mum is my biggest worry. She is an old lady and suffered a heart attack in the Summer. I had to close my company and people lost their jobs. What took 6 years to build was destroyed in less than 6 months. You feel like screaming, shouting, crying – why will no one listen to me? Where is the British Government? There are over two hundred Brits in jail, most in the same situation. They all came to Dubai to start a new life, 99 percent never had any criminal record. Dubai has branded them criminals. Why is our government allowing this farce to happen?
I hope and pray that someone out there hears our pleas. We are not criminals. All we want is justice.








Source:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/dubai/8149093/Safi-Qurashis-open-letter-from-Dubai-jail-cell.html

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