Dubai’s most senior court quashes majority of British property developer's convictions


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The Independent Online

A British property developer broke down in tears today after Dubai’s most senior court quashed the majority of his convictions.

After almost three years in jail, Safi Qurashi, 43, looks set to be home with his wife and three children within days. His family said they were “extremely confident” that a hearing on Monday would overturn the last of his three convictions for fraud.

“There were tears of joy,” said his sister-in-law Hina Qurashi, 36. “We are absolutely thrilled, delighted, completely ecstatic. I have not had a smile on my face like this for three and half years.”

The businessman – who famously paid £43 million to buy the Great Britain shaped island on Dubai’s ill-fated development The World – was imprisoned after being convicted of bouncing three cheques.

His health is now failing after a seven week hunger strike to protest his innocence, which only ended when the Attorney General made the rare decision to refer his case for review and his teenage daughter Sara threatened to follow suit with a similar food ban.

Ms Qurashi explained that Sara, 13, who recently appeared in an emotional online appeal for her father’s release, was now anxiously preparing for his return along with Mr Qurashi’s wife Huma and their 10-year-old Maaria. The youngest Yusuf – who was just three when his father was incarcerated - was excited he was returning from “boarding school”.

“It has been a really tough ride for the family but we hope he will be home with his children within days. We just need to sort some paperwork,” said Ms Qurashi, adding: “We genuinely feel it should not have taken a hunger strike to prompt a case review. The Foreign Office should have done more to help the family access key people but unfortunately that help was not available.”

The London-born developer, who moved to Dubai in 2004, was sentenced to seven years in 2010 after a trial in which he was denied the right to call key defence witnesses.

Today the United Arab Emirates’ Cassation Court quashed the convictions in relation to two of the cheques, having heard that Mr Qurashi had written them as security and they should have been returned rather than cashed.

The third conviction, to be considered at a hearing on the 30th, relates to a cheque which a civil case heard had been cashed by the recipient despite the fact the project had been cancelled.

Today Fair Trials International’s Chief Executive, Jago Russell, said: “We are delighted by today’s decision and hope that Safi is soon allowed back home to his family. He has already spent three years in a Dubai jail and his case has highlighted the harsh laws that lie beneath the glitz and glamour of Dubai’s tourist adverts and shining financial districts.”

Dozens of foreign investors remain in prison in Dubai, having fallen foul of the UAE’s harsh criminal laws, which impose lengthy prison sentences for crimes such as bounced cheques, particularly since the downturn in the economy saw a dramatic increase in debtors.