Mark Leftly: Justice is not reserved for the sympathetic

Safi Qurashi was a very rich man, who rubbed shoulders with the likes of Piers Morgan, but that doesn't mean he should be left to rot in a Dubai jail

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As you read this, two incredibly delicate-looking, but even more incredibly courageous, little girls are outside the United Arab Emirates embassy near the Royal Albert Hall, demanding justice for their father.

Sara, 13, and Maaria, 10, will be protesting there, through rain, wind and cold, for the next 28 days, when they have to return to Dubai for the next school term. They will draw in passers-by with lollipops, then tell them how their father has been wrongly imprisoned and get them to sign a book of support.

That Safi Qurashi, a south London-raised property entrepreneur who hit the big time when he moved to the UAE in August 2004, has two wonderful daughters does not mean he should be set free from his Dubai jail. Not even the independent investigations – one authorised by the Dubai courts – that state that he and two business associates are victims of a miscarriage of justice, that they are not guilty of the crime of bouncing cheques, should necessarily guarantee his release. Certainly the findings were not enough for a Dubai judge, who "shell-shocked" Qurashi's family, as his brother Farhan puts it, last week by refusing to overturn the original verdict.

However, there is more than enough evidence and questions over the manner of Qurashi's arrest, questioning and trial, for the Foreign Office to take its head out of the sand and put pressure on Dubai's ruling family to take a fresh look at the case.

Qurashi is not the type who will naturally elicit much sympathy from the British public: He splashed out an obscene $60m for the Great Britain island in the even more obscene $14bn mega-development that is The World off the coast of Dubai; he appeared on television with Piers Morgan, talking about how he had made it rich as the little emirate boomed; and he flew Kenny Dalglish and players from his beloved Liverpool FC to the Little Britain island to show off where he might build a training facility for the squad.

However, what happened to Qurashi, if even only parts of what he, his family and independent investigators allege is true, shows why only two years ago the British embassy said that Brits were more likely to be arrested in the UAE than in any other country.

According to his supporters, Qurashi was arrested after leaving a mosque. He was accused of bouncing three cheques worth millions of pounds, two when he acted as a broker in a land deal involving a Russian, the other regarding a joint venture to develop the Iraq and Moscow islands in The World.

He was allowed to drive home, where the police informed his pregnant wife that he was under arrest. Once in the police station, Qurashi was handcuffed to a chair for eight hours and then held for a week without being allowed to make a phone call.

A month later, following a trial that lasted no more than a few minutes, he was sentenced to seven years in jail. His wife had a miscarriage.

It has since been discovered that Qurashi had, in fact, paid the value of the two cheques involving the Russian, while the third was cancelled rather than bounced.

Far dimmer minds than a man who built up a £600m-turnover property empire from scratch will have fallen foul of the UAE's zero-tolerance attitude to bounced cheques.

While it might be politically incorrect to question another culture's laws, the FCO should give serious consideration to what Qurashi's case really means. How many of the 60 or so Brits believed to be in Dubai's Central Jail for financial fraud are the victim of similar errors? How many of those prisoners signed cheques months in advance of them being cashed, as is the custom, to cover car or rental payments, only for the financial crisis that hit Dubai so badly to result in them bouncing? If there is no criminal intent, shouldn't the British government try to protect those Brits who have so helped the Dubai economy to boom? And how many of them have been unable to tell of their plight because, unlike Qurashi, they did not have Bentleys and yachts that they could sell to pay their legal fees?

The FCO required a letter of "due process" to get involved. The Qurashis finally found a UAE lawyer brave enough to sign one, yet the FCO has done little with the letter since receiving it more than two months ago.

However, there is some hope that the Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt will now intervene. If he does, he must demand that Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, tell Sara and Maaria why today they could not celebrate Eid at home with their father. They must find out why, instead, he is rotting in a jail wearing a two-piece white outfit, the top emblazoned with a horizontal blue line that denotes the severity of his supposed crime.

Maaria told me yesterday how much she misses Dubai, as it is "really fun to play in its parks and beaches". Farhan added that his brother refused to join the British exodus from Dubai when it crashed in late 2009 as he still believed in its grand dreams.

Those little girls and their dad deserve better from our government, as well as the tiny emirate they still adore.

Lloyds chief off with stress? Blame the coalition and its ridiculous riddles

The root cause of the stunning news that Lloyds chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio is taking time off due to stress is the utter lack of logic in government banking policy.

No one, not even the financial world's equivalent of Jose Mourinho (he's Portuguese, sharply dressed and the ferocity of his determination is inhuman) can resolve the central conflict at the heart of the coalition's twin demands to increase lending and shore up their balance sheets.

Under the Project Merlin agreement, the four biggest banks must lend £76bn to the UK's five million small businesses this year, to resuscitate the economy. But that money must be poured on to their balance sheets to ensure that they can withstand another financial crisis.

It might seem a bit of a stretch to argue that this unsolvable conundrum is what has left Horta-Osorio so badly drained. It isn't.

The 47-year-old former Santander UK boss threw himself into his role with trademark zeal in March, wrong-footing the entire industry in deciding to settle on the mis-selling of payment protection insurance. He set aside £3.2bn, forcing rivals to follow suit (for this alone, Horta-Osorio deserves the public's thanks). He undertook a massive reorganisation, shed 15,000 jobs, and centralised operations so he could keep an eye on every senior manager's move.

John Maltby was promoted to the executive committee and given responsibility for SMEs. He reported to Horta-Osorio, meaning many of the legendarily long hours the Portuguese worked were focused on getting credit to small businesses.

This autumn, Horta-Osorio is understood to have moaned that all the micro-managing was exhausting. Now, figures have emerged showing that small businesses find it no easier to obtain lending. Big criticism of the big banks is back.

Horta-Osorio was under particular pressure as the taxpayer owns 41 per cent of Lloyds. Even if he returns in eight weeks, refreshed, he still won't have an answer to his biggest shareholder's impossible riddle.

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