'We want our money back': bounced cheque victims
Investors who became victims in a bounced cheque case tell Myra Philp of the hardship they have endured...
A group of pilots who say they lost Dhs20 million in a project planned by one of the inmates claiming to be hunger striking in Dubai Central Jail have urged him to settle his debts in exchange for his freedom.
The 42 pilots invested the money in a waterfront development proposed for Jebel Ali in Dubai through Brit Peter Margetts. But when the project failed they attempted to bank their security cheques.
Margetts, 48, of London, is now three years into a 38-year sentence for bouncing cheques, although he was found not guilty of fraud.
The investors say they each got a promotional pack in their private mail boxes at work in 2008. But the project, which was to have had a six-month financial return of 30 per cent for each of the investors - guaranteed by post-dated cheques from Margetts’ firm to the tune of about Dhs27 million - literally did not get off the ground.
A spokesman for the group of pilots, which claims it has been trying to settle with Margetts for more than three years, said: “A Dhs5 million deposit was paid for the land, but it was never purchased. Then he (Margetts) told us our money had disappeared.”
The group has claimed in letters to the UK Parliament that Margetts transferred funds offshore to a personal bank account. The spokesman said: “We have no desire to keep Margetts in prison.
“He can sign a settlement agreement and his sentence will be lifted. He could be released within a few days.” The flyers say they only invested because of the protection that the law in the UAE gave them with signed and post-dated cheques as a guarantee.
The spokesman said: “The company used that as leverage against us to collect monies.” The failed project meant a number of the pilots were forced to resign from their jobs to collect a one-off ‘retirement’ payment so they could pay off debts that resulted from the debacle.
The spokesman said: “The impact on a personal level for a number of people meant dramatic changes. Some were forced to leave the UAE. Some borrowed to make the investment.”
He said that some had struggled to pay medical bills for family members and many had scaled back on their children’s education. The spokesman concluded: “If there was to be a change in the UAE law it should not be retrospective. “We made our decisions to invest based on the law as it was at the time. The law did what we expected it to do. It’s why we all invested.
“The law gave investors confidence of legal recourse if a default occurred.
“Code 399 of the Penal Code covers fraud. It is not as strong as we would imagine. It’s supported by the law on bounced cheques. These two together give us some protection.”
The investors claim Margetts has never shown them accounts and his lawyer was never instructed to discuss settlement. Margetts, speaking from jail yesterday, said: “I am trying my very best to sort this out. If I had the money why wouldn’t I just settle and get out of here?
“I have offered land, buildings, but they always want something else.
“I was found not guilty of fraud. They walked from police station to police station to ensure the cheque cases were separate. Why haven’t they brought a civil case against me? It’s like they are holding me to ransom.
“I’ve worked for 25 years and have lost everything even my family. I’ve had enough.”
Prisoners in plea to Obama
The saga of the jailed businessmen at Dubai Central Jail took a new twist yesterday after 17 of them joined forces to highlight their cases in a personal letter to US President Barack Obama. The men are all in prison for bouncing cheques, and are serving between three and 29 years. Some claim to be nearly five weeks into hunger strikes, although the prison has reportedly denied that this is the case.
In the letter, handed to the US Consul who visited the jail yesterday, the men tell Obama: “We are a group of 17 businessmen of various nationalities currently serving multiple consecutive criminal sentences for bounced cheque offences.
“Some of us have cumulative sentences that exceed 29 years. We are addressing this letter to you, the President of the United States of America.” The men also tell the Obama: “We have endured and persevered the passing away of beloved family members without attending their funerals and are absent from our children during their development and upbringing as parents.
The loss of our businesses and subsequent income has therefore rendered us unable to financially support our families.” The letter came as prisoners say a team of lawyers visited the jail so they could finalise their wills, as they claim they will refuse medical treatment. They also say they have shunned visits from their embassies.
Last month an official at Dubai Central Jail confirmed one prisoner had gone on hunger strike but said the matter had been resolved. The jail’s director was also quoted yesterday by a UAE newspaper as saying 13 prisoners had gone on hunger strike but the protest ended after a few days.