“We have never seen gulf banks pursue customers as relentlessly and aggressively as the banks of Qatar. Over the past two years, banks such as Qatar National Bank (QNB) have fought to not only list debtors on Interpol’s databases as criminal fugitives, but have vigorously sought their arrest and extradition from Western countries.
“We have received calls from customers relaying their horrific experiences and seeking emergency assistance. One was pulled over by British police on the side of the road in England, one arrested on arrival in Mallorca, and another in Spain. Another British man has been detained in Prague for months in deplorable conditions, fighting against an extradition request, and several more were released from European prisons after local courts ruled the requests were frivolous.
“It is almost as though law enforcers in Qatar have given carte blanche to their national crime bureau, allowing them to list anyone they like on Interpol’s database. Interpol claims that they filter requests before they are made active but in reality, this is not the case. Interpol is completely reliant on member countries to use their access with integrity, and while they may have rejected some politically motivated notices from Turkey, they have yet to address the drastic number of financially motivated notices from the gulf region. Is it that Interpol does not care for the integrity of their organisation, is it that they do not want to “rock the boat” with gulf nations who they feel are cooperating on other levels? Or is it that they themselves are financially motivated and reliant on contributions received from gulf nations? Whatever the case may be, member countries go unpunished for abusing the Interpol database. They are not penalised or fined and are free to enter as many Red Notices as they please.
“The UAE has certainly misused Interpol’s database over the past decade, listing debtors in particular and parties on the other end of commercial litigations. When Sheikh Saud came into power in Ras Al Khaimah, a number of Red Notices were issued against staff of the former ruler, seemingly for no other reason except to recoup funds to compensate for his relative unpopularity.
“Qatar however, has become an attractive option for foreign expats and investors, with development and preparations for FIFA 2022. More and more businesses and individuals are taking an interest in the region, and many have sympathised with the country after countries perceived as more villainous, such as Saudi and the UAE, imposed a blockade against Qatar. Others, who were at risk in the UAE, saw similar opportunities in Qatar and the safety of being in a country that had severed ties with the UAE.
“Most customers who were placed on the Interpol database had already been in negotiations with the banks to try to resolve a settlement or payment plan. They had not taken out credit and fled with the proceeds, were not acting fraudulently and in fact, were actively seeking a solution with the bank. QNB however, decided that they could more effectively pressure customers if they were detained abroad, albeit temporarily, using the risk of extradition as a means to encourage customers to request family members to re-mortgage homes to save them from prison. Interpol became a tool to the banks. Preventing an Interpol notice requires active planning and careful attention placed on securing evidence that exonerates a customer of any wrongful allegation of criminal misconduct. A professional should always be involved. The misuse of Interpol’s database raises serious human rights concerns as the process can lead to lengthy and unfair detentions, loss of employment and hefty legal fees. Interpol is a loophole for gulf nations who criminalise debt, to have people arrested in the West where normally, the matter would be resolved within the civil courts. This loophole needs to be closed and our work at IPEX Reform, is instrumental to achieving this goal.
“While Qatar has been commended for human rights improvements in foreign labour camps and exploitation, nothing has been done to protect expat workers from exploitation by local business partners. Like the UAE, local business partners know that they can manipulate the justice system to achieve their own goals and frequently, at the expense of someone else’s freedom. A false allegation against an unsuspecting expat is sufficient to give them the local a route to embezzle funds from joint ventures, to extort funds from another, or to use them as a scapegoat for their own fraud. Jonathan Nash and Joseph Sarlak know this only too well, both having been imprisoned under these circumstances. Meanwhile, another elderly British national has been stuck in Qatar for six years with local influential partners using his freedom as a bargaining chip. This practice is unlikely to change in the next ten years and investors need to understand the risky landscape they are entering when they choose to navigate gulf nations.
“Qatar has shown itself to be a seriously risky place for any foreign company or investor to establish business connections. Some have lost their entire life savings, companies and even their freedom.
“Detained in Doha, the sister group of Detained in Dubai, was founded to help people facing these often unbelievable situations, and to lead them to safety and freedom. Detained in Doha will be submitting recommendations to the Qatari government in as we approach the World Cup. The recommendations, if followed, will be beneficial to the country and to individuals and foreigners alike.”
- Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Doha, Detained in Dubai & IPEX Reform
Radha Stirling, is founder and CEO of UK / USA based legal and human rights organisation Detained in Dubai, Detained in Dubai, Expert Witness and respected analyst of Middle East Policy.
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