Australians are in disbelief that one of their own, Shayne Nelson, former Westpac CEO is now the CEO of a UAE bank that jails debtors, threatens Interpol red notices and illegally harasses customers in financial trouble.
In a recent interview, Shayne Nelson, Australian CEO of Emirates National Bank of Dubai (ENBD) claims that he does not believe bouncing a cheque in Dubai should lead to criminal proceedings. However, this statement goes against the everyday practice of ENBD which is considered one of the more aggressive banks when it comes to criminal cases involving debt.
Shayne’s bank has been accused of illegal harassment and using the threat of an Interpol Red Notice as part of their own standard debt-reclaiming practice.
Australian national and lawyer Radha Stirling operates the organisation “Detained in Dubai”, an NGO assisting Australians with middle eastern legal issues and who specialises in financial crime, addressed Parliament in Canberra on their extradition treaty with the UAE. During her time with Senator Kroger, she explained that, “the UAE should not be able to extradite Australian nationals, some of which will be listed on Interpol because of debt and other matters that Australia would consider civil and commercial.” Stirling said on Nelson’s recent comments “I am pleased that Shayne is in agreement that customers who default on loans and credit cards, should not be treated as criminals and should definitely not be jailed. His bank’s operating policies do not reflect Shayne’s sentiments and as CEO, he needs to put his ideology into practice. We have a number of ENBD customers who are being unfairly harassed, threatened with Interpol and extradition and being fired from their jobs because of unfair collection tactics. Most of our clients are shocked that the CEO of ENBD is actually an Australian. They can not believe that he would take on a role with a bank that uses these kind of tactics and have gone so far as to call him a 'real traitor'.”
Stirling is represents approximately ten Australians every month who are being threatened with Interpol notices over small debts. Some clients had lost their job or needed to leave Dubai because of medical or other personal reasons. None of them had committed fraud or deliberately defaulted on the banks. They are forced to leave Dubai or face imprisonment. One client said, “Shayne Nelson must know that his bank is doing this. How can he support them illegally threatening Interpol and extradition, harassing people at their work? It just doesn’t make sense that he goes in public looking like he cares but supports these unlawful practices. No one should be arrested or fear travelling over a credit card debt!”
The UAE has a common practice of requiring post-dated cheques as security. This gives unfair advantage to banks and landlords etc, who essentially hold the threat of jail over the head of anyone issuing such cheques. Security cheques are written in advance as standard practice, even where the person has no funds at the time of issuance to cover the obligation.
At any point, cheques can be presented and customer will face jail, which carries the very real risk of torture and human rights abuses.
For many of their customers, there is a stark contradiction between what Shayne Nelson says and the practice of ENBD. Detained in Dubai have been contacted by one of their Australian clients who says he has seen, “Shayne Nelson's comments about decriminalising debt in the UAE”, and that he is, himself currently being “harassed by that bank's debt collectors, threatening me with criminal charges, jail, and being reported to Interpol." The client adds, “If Shayne Nelson really meant what he is saying, why does his bank continue to file criminal cases against their customers?”
The UAE sees financial debt as a crime, Australia and most of the rest of the world do not; neither does Interpol which states that issuing red notices for debt is a breach of their protocols. Anyone who has been wrongfully reported to Interpol will need to seek legal assistance to have their name removed from the database. While they await removal, they risk lengthy, expensive detentions and costly extradition hearings.
Imprisoning any debtor in a Dubai jail means that the bank stands little to no chance of recouping its money, this is despite the head of HSBC for the UAE, Abdulfattah Sharaf’s insistence that imprisonment works in these cases. He says jail sentences will prompt an associate or family member to pay on behalf of the detainee. However, the figures speak for themselves: more than 1,200 people in Dubai’s central jail — about 40 percent of the prison population — have been convicted of not repaying money borrowed from banks.
Judge Ayman Abdul Hakam, the head of the One Day Courts in Dubai, deals with many cases of bounced cheques and debts and still recognises the use of Interpol Notices as a debt collection device and supports cheque-bouncing remaining a criminal offence. He has previously stated that debtors could possibly “..flee the country and the beneficiary cannot get his money back if this were not criminalised. By this being a criminal offence, the law will get to the defendant, through Interpol for example, even if he or she fled.”
“Decriminalising bounced cheques and lifting the legal protection it actually provides, may prompt individuals or traders to issue bad cheques knowingly and more often, which may disrupt the economic system in the country,” he said.
Founder and CEO of Detained in Dubai, Radha Stirling, who has aided expats in Dubai in cases of debt and financial issues for the last 10 years has said in a statement, “we are still seeing a rise in the use of Interpol Red Notices as debt collection devices by Dubai financial institutions. Not only does this go against Interpol’s own guidelines, it is pointless and causes unnecessary distress. Sentencing clients to imprisonment not only puts them at risk of serious human rights abuses, it costs the taxpayer to keep them in prison and is rarely successful in recouping any monies.”
Ms. Stirling continues, “the UAE needs to decriminalise bounced cheques to come into line with international standards.This would force banks to be more responsible with their lending and ensure that people are only prosecuted in the event that they committed genuine fraud. It is extremely difficult to function in the Emirates without issuing security cheques and residents are forced to issue them, knowing that they are putting themselves at risk.”