Former Met officer calls for fresh investigation as millionaire businessman ‘reckless’ but not criminal
A London-born property developer serving seven years in a Dubai jail for bouncing £50m worth of cheques has been wrongly convicted and was the victim of a criminal conspiracy, according to a former Metropolitan police chief.
Safi Qurashi, feted as one of Britain’s most successful businessmen after paying £43m for a man-made island in the Gulf in the shape of Great Britain, was found guilty in the United Arab Emirates of signing two cheques with insufficient funds and cancelling another.
A 115-page case review written by Tarique Ghaffur, the former assistant commissioner of the Met, claims that Qurashi and two colleagues who have also been imprisoned are the victims of a “miscarriage of justice”.
“They have stood little chance of proving their innocence particularly as the investigations and trials appeared so one-sided and biased … They have been the victim of circumstances brought on by the property recession, the actions of criminals and gross negligence by court officials,” he said.
However, Qurashi and his colleagues were not without fault and had allowed ambition to colour their judgment, Ghaffur noted in the report commissioned by Qurashi’s family.
“Mr Qurashi and his colleagues were at times complacent, naive and even reckless in their business dealings,” he said.
Qurashi, 41, rose to fame as the owner of the 4.5-hectare island that is part of The World, a man-made archipelago of 300 reclaimed sandbanks in the Gulf, fashioned into the shape of the globe’s land masses.
The case raises difficult questions for the Royal family in the troubled kingdom. Last Monday, Britain’s consul general to the UAE, Guy Warrington, took the unusual step of warning Britons that they are more likely to be arrested in Dubai – statistically and proportionally – than anywhere else in the world apart from Thailand.
Dozens of Britons have been caught out in Dubai by laws that hand down jail sentences for cheque fraud, which have been strictly enforced in the midst of collapsing house prices, negative equity and reduced credit.
Dubai’s absence of banking laws meant much reliance was put on investments being secured on cheques whether issued as a security cheque or as a postdated cheque, the report claims.
Investors soon started to make complaints that fraudsters had run off with their money, and the number of cases of bounced cheques reported by the banks and individuals rocketed to 5,000 a day in July 2009.
The review by Ghaffur, the former head of the Met’s specialist crime directorate, has been shown to the Guardian as part of a campaign by Qurashi’s family.
A number of people are named in the report as guilty of criminal acts. The report also calls for a fresh investigation into the case by the Dubai authorities and British police.
Ghaffur spent three months working on the review, including several weeks in Dubai interviewing witnesses and lawyers.
Police are reviewing criminal allegations raised within the report against a British businessman, it was confirmed last week. Qurashi, from Balham, south London, moved from London to Dubai in 2004 with wife, Huma, and children Sara, 12, Maaria, nine, and Yousuf, five.
The son of a Pakistan-born travel agent, he had developed one of the first internet cafes in Soho, central London.
In 2008, his property firm was turning over £400m a year and employed 80 staff. After he bought the island, Qurashi was interviewed by the journalist Piers Morgan for an ITV programme as one of Dubai’s success stories.
He claims he was denied access to a lawyer and handcuffed to a chair for 16 hours after being arrested with his business partner in January 2010. After using up all his legal options for appeal against his sentence, handed down in July, he petitioned the Queen.
In a letter to a newspaper last year, he said his wife had suffered a miscarriage and his mother a heart attack while he has been in jail. He has had to close his property firm, Premier Real Estate Bureau. His daughter, Sara, has set up a website as part of the campaign to free him and appealed for help to meet Dubai’s ruler.
The islands, praised by some as an architectural miracle and condemned by others as an environmental disaster, were built in 2003 two and a half miles from the coast of Dubai and can be seen from space.
They have become a symbol of Dubai’s fading economic power in the global downturn. Built during the boom to be used as secluded playgrounds for the super-rich, they remain largely unused. A court was recently told the islands are sinking, a claim denied by some of their owners.