41 year old Richard Lau, from Kuching, Sarawak State in Malaysia has been in jail for eight months in Dubai for being paid his wages. Richard who worked as a project coordinator for the Shin Yang shipping company at its UAE subsidiary in Ras Al Khaima, was caught in the crossfire of an argument between the Emirati owner of the subsidiary and the parent company. Eight people were accused of stealing funds by the UAE businessman.
These “stolen funds” were in fact the wages that Richard Lau and his coworkers were due, and paid to them by their company exactly as they had been promised.
Walid Jumaa Abu Shabas, the Emirati businessman who owned the subsidiary argued that he had not approved the work Richard and the other accused were doing, therefore the wages were “stolen.”
This meant, according to Mr Abu Shabas, that Richard and the others, who had no idea about this argument between the partners, and were going about their work as instructed had technically stolen the money. Money which was paid to them as earned wages, in the usual fashion, by the usual source.
Richard was completely shocked to be among eight workers arrested and accused of embezzlement.
Richard Lau. A “strong sense of right and wrong,” according to friends.
Richard, a keen Newcastle United supporter, who had worked happily for Shin Yang for five years, was the only worker who chose to remain in Dubai. He believed in the rule of law, and that whatever arguments had happened between the executives, he had personally done nothing wrong. He had worked as instructed, and been paid as agreed. He believed that common sense would prevail and he would be absolved of blame.
When Walid Jumaa Abu Shabas found that Richard’s bosses had left the UAE and couldn’t be prosecuted, as had the company accountants, he decided to place responsibility on the only man remaining in the country. Richard Lau found himself improbably taking the blame for the whole affair, and incarcerated by the prosecutor in the interests of the powerful Emirati businessman.
Richard had always had high hopes for his life according to those who know him. He finished university in New Zealand full of business ideas and plans. He saw the higher wages that the UAE offered as a way to fund those ideas, despite the homesickness he felt for Malaysia, his family, friends and his mother’s home cooked food.
Everyone who knows Richard describes him as personable, funny, honest and witty. His sister, Eileen says, “Richard gets on with everybody from every background. He cares about people, and because of that they gravitate towards him.”
Richard has been in jail for eight months so far. Every two weeks the prosecution extends his case, and it seems there is no end in sight for the popular Malaysian. UAE jails are so dangerous in terms of human rights violations and torture that many countries refuse extradition requests as a matter of course.
His other sister Antonia tells us, “Richard had no idea that his wages were in dispute. He expected them each month as we all do, and they got paid. He thought nothing of it, any more than anyone else would about their wages being paid into the bank. It’s not like anybody called him to tell him there was a problem, or that he shouldn’t accept his wages. He had no idea. It was a total shock to him when he got arrested.”
For the foreseeable future Richard remains in the harsh Middle Eastern prison, locked up with murderers, thieves and rapists, with no idea if and when he will ever be free.
Radha Stirling, CEO of the British based NGO Detained In Dubai who are representing Richard had this to say, “Richard is one of many people detained in the UAE without evidence. Unfortunately, even though the laws provide that a suspect should be released within three weeks if not charged, the legislation is not followed by local authorities and in practice, foreigners have been detained for far in excess of twelve months without charge, especially where the accuser is an Emirati.
“Richard was not involved in his company’s policy making and could not have been responsible for Walid’s perceived misfortunes, but has been in custody for the last eight months. His life is in pieces because of the ease at which the flawed UAE legal system can be seemingly manipulated by a powerful Emirati.
“I hope that the Malaysian government will apply diplomatic pressure on the UAE to either charge Richard Lau and give him an opportunity to defend himself, or to secure his immediate release.”