Safi Qurashi should, at least in theory, tick all the boxes when it comes to serious miscarriages of justice and yet, the British press has treated his case with some degree of circumspection – perhaps with good reason.
Qurashi was, ostensibly, the classic example of the immigrant’s son who manages to secure fame as well as fortune by dint of ambition and hard work. The son of a Pakistani couple, London-born Qurashi moved out to Dubai in 2004 with his wife and children and within four years had built a formidable property empire on the shifting sands of the booming emirate.
We were told that his property firm was turning over £400 million a year and employing some 80 staff but Qurashi was cloaked in obscurity until he made the fateful decision to invest in one of Dubai’s signature developments. Along with his business partner Mustafa Nagri, Qurashi had paid out £43m for the island of Great Britain that formed part of the man-made archipelago designed to symbolise Dubai’s chutzpah. It encompassed 300 islands that had been shaped to resemble the globe, can be seen from space and was designed to secure Dubai’s reputation as the Manhattan of the Middle East.
Like Icarus, Qurashi had, however, sailed too close to the sun in the desert kingdom so when the global crash came a-calling so did the creditors. And as fast as his empire formed it has dissipated like so many grains of sand. In June 2010, Qurashi was jailed after being convicted for bouncing cheques worth more than £50m in a dispute that had its foundations in a business deal with a Russian businessman that appears to have gone sour.
‘Security cheques’ are common currency in the UAE as collateral in private deals. The common practice is that they are not cashed and simply used as collateral until the deal is concluded and funds transferred bank to bank. In this case, we have been told, Qurashi concluded the deal, transferred the funds, and yet his Russian counterpart saw fit to try and cash the cheques. When they bounced, the Russian complained to the authorities.
British-based group, Detained of Dubai, are not the only organisation to take up Qurashi’s case, drawing attention to the apparent injustice of it all. Qurashi and his allies have also enlisted the assistance of ex-News of The World editor Phil Hall and his expensive PR agency. Subsequently, a former assistant commissioner of the Met Police was commissioned to investigate the case.
The report from Tarique Ghaffur claims a ‘miscarriage of justice’ calling the trials ‘one-sided and biased’ and noting that they were as much victims of ‘the property recession’ as the judicial system. Perhaps tellingly, however, Ghaffur noted that Qurashi and his team had been “complacent, naïve and even reckless in their business dealings”.
Just as the crash began to hit home the Financial Action Task Force pointed to the opaque nature of ownership in the UAE and the lack of controls to deter laundering. Business too often resembled little more than a giant ‘pyramid’ scheme with money shuffled from project to project. For the wealthy Westerners, who have managed to make a mint out of Dubai, it would be a good idea to remember that their wealth has, at its root, come from the sweat and hard labour of, in effect, little more than indentured labour.
Whether Qurashi will ever see justice is a moot point but his wealth and passport give him a better chance than most. Meanwhile, most of The World remains undeveloped and, according to at least one court case, the islands are slowly sinking back into the sea.