When Johnson George was denied bail again at a recent hearing, the 48 year-old lawyer broke down in the Ras Al Khaimah courtroom, tears streaming down his face as guards led him back to a holding cell. He has been in detention since January 2018 for a crime allegedly committed by his former employer over ten years ago.
Back in 2002, Johnson joined the Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone Authority as legal manager; he oversaw the drafting of contracts and agreements with their investors under the direction of the RAKFTZA CEO ; it was a great opportunity and it enabled Johnson to provide a good life for his wife and two small children, as well as his aged parents back in the Indian state of Kerala.
In 2012, the new ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qassimi began purging executives in the RAKFTZA and RAK Investment Authority who had worked for his father; Johnson George’s boss was one of them. As a pretext for his dismissal, the CEO was accused of corruption, and returned to the United States where he continues a fight to clear his name in American civil courts. Under these circumstances, after more than ten years of diligent service, Johnson tendered his resignation to the RAKFTZA and began his own private consultancy.
Johnson’s reputation for excellence, and his acumen in Free Trade Zone contracts eventually led to his being hired as general manager of the Umm Al Quwain Free Zone in 2013.
When he was arrested by police 8 months ago, Johnson was bewildered. He had been working in the UAE without incident for nearly 20 years, drafted thousands of contracts for the RAK and UAQ investment authorities that helped see their foreign investments bloom; he was now being held accountable for an alleged breach of trust supposedly committed by his old boss on a contract from 2005?
“The authorities could not arrest his former employer, so they are taking it out on Johnson”, says a friend familiar with the case. “His old boss went to the US, and is challenging RAK in the courts, so they are retaliating by detaining Johnson, basically because he emailed the contracts in question to the parties involved. He had nothing to do with the contracts, nothing to do with the deals, he just typed them – because it was his job”.
While Johnson languishes in an RAK prison cell, his family is struggling to survive financially in his absence. His wife has had to send their young son, 16, to India to live with her sister, as she can no longer afford to pay school fees in the UAE. Back in Kerala, Johnson’s father George, 78, suffered a stroke after learning of his son’s imprisonment, and without Johnson’s regular money transfers, his elderly parents can’t pay for a caregiver.
For the first 6 months of his detention, Johnson was not even charged. His bail application has been rejected multiple times, and it is expected that a conviction will be fast-tracked. Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, explains, “We have seen many false prosecutions coming out of the RAKFTZA since the new ruler came to power. The Public Prosecutor and the courts understand that these cases are essentially being made by the ruler himself to tidy up the mess left by his purge of the people appointed by his father, so due process is non-existent. Johnson George is being detained and charged for no reason except that the RAK authorities are unable to extradite his former boss.
Indian businesspeople, professionals and investors are finding themselves in an increasingly precarious position in the UAE. They have helped to build the country’s economy, but appear to be treated as disposable by the authorities; and the Indian government seems uninterested when their non-resident citizens like Johnson George are victimised, even though NRIs are a source of income for millions of families”.