Many expats in Dubai are forced to flee the Emirates with debts. Not criminals, or fraudsters, but ordinary people who took out loans in good faith, and then whose circumstances changed, leaving them at risk of imprisonment by a legal system that treats debt as illegal.
For the most part these people want to honour their obligations, but to negotiate from safety. When they escape the country, UAE banks resort to other underhand tactics to leverage their money.
The UAE, coincidentally Interpol’s largest voluntary contributor, having donated $53 million in 2016 alone- regularly uses Interpol as a method of debt collection. The banks have debtors placed on an Interpol Red Notice, which means that any time the debtor passes through an International border, they risk detention and potential extradition to the UAE.
Banks are not allowed to abuse Interpol in this way. Interpol has no mandate to chase debts, even for big donating countries, so the UAE courts reclassify the simple debt cases as fraud, enabling them to list the unfortunate person on Interpol’s watch list.
Many expats remain unaware and often they turn to internet forums for help and advice. We have noticed that some of the advice published on forums claims that banks do not use Interpol for debts. The confusion appears to stem from the fact that Interpol do not publish UAE issued red notices on their website. The decision as to whether to publish a notice on the website remains with the issuing country and the UAE declines to publish notices. Unsuspecting individuals are performing a name search via the Interpol website and when the results return negative, they (mistakenly) believe that they are clear.
One experienced moderator advises concerned debtors that: “Interpol threats are a spoof”, while his colleague tells readers that “The UAE only issues Red Notices for serious financial crime. Yet another informs us we should check on the Interpol website and use the search box there to find out if we have a Red Notice.
What these probably well meaning moderators are unaware of is that there are thousands of people listed with Interpol Red Notices for sometimes very small debts. Recently, a British citizen was detained in Italy for several weeks after a UAE bank issued a Red Notice issued for a debt of under £15,000. Although she was ultimately released, she still needs to make formal submissions to Interpol before her name is permanently removed.
Radha Stirling, CEO of British NGO “Detained In Dubai”says, “The advice given on some popular forums, while probably well intentioned, is potentially dangerous. Interpol and extradition should not be taken lightly by people with outstanding debts in the UAE. Even though in 2012 the UAE committed publicly to stopping this Interpol abuse, it has continued to rise steadily from 2013 onwards. The search engine on Interpol’s website is also not a way to check if you are listed. It is each member country’s choice as to whether to publicly list their Red Notices, and the UAE declines to show theirs. The search engine will show no UAE Red Notices at all. There is only one way to know if you are wanted by Interpol, and that is to apply to Interpol directly."