Bad cheques still a criminal offence for UAE expats

Clarification follows reports foreign nationals will not be punished for bounced cheques
(Image for illustrative purposes)
By Claire Valdini
Thu 03 Jan 2013 10:25 AM

Expatriates in the UAE will not be exempt from criminal charges for bouncing cheques, authorities said, clarifying media reports that foreign nationals who write bad cheques will no longer be punished.

The Higher Committee for Debt Settlement Fund for Nationals said it will only settle bad debts for Emirati citizens and not foreigners living in the Gulf state.

“The mechanisms set by the fund will apply only to UAE citizens, and not others, and this includes the President’s directives to decriminalise [bounced] security cheques presented by UAE citizens to banks and financial firms,” a statement on state news agency WAM said.

“The prosecution shall suspend all criminal cases and the courts shall dismiss all cases in connection with security cheques presented by Emiratis,” it added.

The statement comes days after local media printed contradictory reports on whether the UAE was ending prison terms for expatriates that write bad cheques.

Arabic daily Al Ittihad on January 1 said bouncing a cheque would no longer be a criminal offence for expatriates, quoting Ali Khalfan Al Dhaheri, head of the legal affairs department at the Ministry of Presidential Affairs,

“In line with the directives of Sheikh Khalifa... and in the spirit of fairness and equality, the courts have stopped as of last month accepting collateral cheques presented as a criminal tool against expatriate debt defaulters,” he told the newspaper.

“Federal public prosecutions in the country have, indeed, released expatriate detainees as has been the case of their Emirati counterparts who were freed last October,” added Judge Jassem Saif Buossaiba, head of the judicial inspection department at the Justice Ministry.

Gulf News however denied the report. “There is no relaxation or debt waiver for expatriates,” deputy minister of Presidential Affairs Ahmad Jumaa Al Zaabi told the newspaper.

Cheques are used in the UAE to underwrite credit cards, loans and guarantee future payments and bouncing cheques is a criminal offence and not a civil one.

Authorities in October relaxed the penalties for Emiratis who write bad cheques and in November freed around 290 UAE nationals who were in prison for bouncing cheques.

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in May allocated around AED5m to settle defaulted loans for each indebted Emirati. In August, the Central Bank ordered banks to extend maturities on personal loans held by Emiratis by more than four years.

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