A former property executive who was on hunger strike in a Dubai prison has suspended his protest after the attorney-general pledged a judicial review.
Safi Qurashi, a British businessman jailed two-and-a-half-years ago for bouncing two postdated cheques, has ended a seven-week hunger strike on the advice of his wife and daughters.
His decision, after he collapsed last week, follows a move by Essam Humaidan, the attorney-general, to pass his case to the court of cassation, the highest court in the United Arab Emirates.
“We really hope that the cassation court judges will identify with the facts of the case that prove my husband’s cheques were misused by his complainers,” says Huma Qurashi, his wife.
An official at Dubai’s public prosecution service declined to comment.
Mr Qurashi, like many expatriate businessmen, thrived in the freewheeling environment of Dubai’s property boom, at one point leading a multimillion-dollar effort to develop a man-made island that was part of an archipelago of 300 artificial isles off the Dubai coast. But as the boom turned to bust, he and many others were caught in an interlinked web of debt, often guaranteed by personal cheques, that has seen dozens jailed.
The authorities’ apparent climbdown on Mr Qurashi’s case comes after weeks of bad publicity surrounding the hunger strikes, where roughly 20 inmates have refused food for up to nine weeks to highlight their convictions for cheque fraud.
With cheques underwriting financial transactions from mortgages to corporate loans, debtors including homeowners and managing directors have been imprisoned.
The hunger strikers argue that the law should be interpreted to ascertain whether there was any criminal intent involved in their cases. Mr Qurashi, 43, has long pleaded his innocence, claiming he had cleared the debts that his cheques were written to secure. His family is now applying for bail.
The documents reviewed by the attorney-general include a court expert audit of the financial circumstances surrounding the cashing of the security cheques, which his family says shows no monies outstanding to Mr Qurashi’s former business partners, who started the criminal action against him.
The implications of the review may be limited for most other hunger strikers who, unlike Mr Qurashi, do not claim to have been duped, conceding that they wrote the cheques in good faith but could not honour them for financial reasons.
Some have been told they have no further legal recourse, except for an official pardon on humanitarian grounds. Like many Arab states, the ruler of Dubai often pardons criminals during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Dubai, whose debt-laden economy is recovering on the back of increased trade and tourism flows, has finalised important restructuring deals in recent weeks, easing short-term pressure from the government’s financial burden.
As the emirate refocuses on faster economic growth, some are concerned the archaic legal system will slow prospects for this, especially among small and medium-sized enterprises, as many executives continue to remain personally liable for corporate debts.
The government is preparing a new corporate insolvency code to allow companies to follow orderly winding-down procedures more effectively.
But officials have not yet raised the prospect of reforming the criminalisation of personal debt, owing to the omnipresence of postdated cheques as a guarantor within the financial system.
The US national, who denies any wrongdoing, has been in jail since 2008 and has yet to receive a final verdict despite several trials.
The US government, in a rare intervention in a domestic legal case, has called on the Dubai government to grant Mr Shahin’s request for bail.