Failed gifts company boss tells of threats, flees Dubai

Bluebanana.com chief apologises after firm goes bust, leaving large debts in emirate.

The owner of an events and alternative gifts company in Dubai has written an emotional letter to customers and suppliers after fleeing the country on fears that UAE bankruptcy laws could land him in jail.

Simon Ford, the owner of Blue Banana.com, apologised in the letter for leaving the country after the firm’s debt had grown “exponentially”, but pledged to repay every last dirham of its debt.

“Tragically, the debt of the business reached a level on Thursday June 18 that personal threats were being made against me and my family, which left me no choice but to leave four years of passion behind and take my family out of the country,” he said.

“I am not running away from debt, I am purely protecting those dearest to me and getting out of a country which, due to the lack of structured bankruptcy laws and a banking system which has zero flexibility on loan repayments, drives people to make horrible decisions.”

Through its website, Blue Banana sold alternative gifts such as skydiving and jet fighter flights.

Its online marketing business was the online ticketing partner for the Dubai Pro ARCH Trophy cricket tournament this year.

“I am not trying to justify that what has happened [or say it] is morally correct, it most certainly is not, but there is a very stark reality in doing business in UAE which unfortunately results in the most horrible decisions having to be made,” Ford said.

“On a personal level, I have been through the most soul destroying and emotionally horrific four days of my life, and am likely to continue to do so for some time as my integrity is repeatedly called into question and rumours of me stealing people’s money, amongst other accusations, grow out of control.”

In a separate statement, an investor in the company, Nazar Musa, described the company’s management style as “over optimistic”.

Ford said in his letter that he has set up an e-mail account for people to contact him with regard to outstanding payments, and that he would “proactively contact” all those owed money by the company within the next 48 hours.

“I am sorry, Dubai,” he said.

The company's website has been closed down and efforts to call someone on the telephone listed for the firm were unsuccessful.

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Posted by: JP

I am in no way justifying what Simon did, but trying to understand why he did it. If you happen to land in the court for a bounced cheque case, you will face only one question: Is this your signature? Most certainly the answer is Yes and immediately you are in for 6 months, 1 year or whatever. No questions asked why you had to bounce the cheque or who owe you money etc. What do you do? Unless you go through the experience yourself, you will keep blaming Simon.

Posted by: John Smith

The Post Dated Cheque Laws are in the UAE are antiquated, and each passing day that these laws are not addressed, means the cancer keeps spreading through the system. A Twilight Zone episode comes to mind. Here's my experience: 1) Once you issue a Post Dated cheque - bear in mind that there is no system for the issuer of the cheque to put a stop on the cheque. Closing the account is illegal, even while you are being defrauded. Draining the funds out of the accounts, to let the cheque bounce is illegal. The only way to get the bank to put a stop is to get a court/police order. That court case can cost Tens of Thousands of Dirhams. The bank permits cheque stops on - get this - cheques that have not been issued. ie... if one has lost their cheque book. Big deal. 2) Very common practise for developers to advertise projects with payments seemingly linked to construction milestones which should occur by certain dates. The Developer then pushes people to write post dated cheques, which they cash with regularity while construction does not start or is on terminal hold. In this scenario, there is no truth in advertising laws, so the developer hasn't violated anything. If you let the cheques bounce, you are guilty. 3) Developers who have abandoned projects, or are near certain to abscond - are cashing cheques. Even in this scenario, it is the developer that has the upper hand. If the buyer lets the cheque bounce, he commits the first illegality. 4) Developers present cheques to non-escrow accounts. While that is illegal - if you let the cheque bounce, the developer - by walking into the local police station - can get you put on an immigration watch list. You think the police, who detain you at the airport, understand anything about escrow accounts...? ... fortunately, they're now swamped by the sheer volumes. A few things that can be done - just as an observer 5) Bouncing a cheque is a criminal act in the UAE. The law should be changed to make it a civil / commercial act, or at least introduce a threshold or cutoff amount. Or even start by segregating between business & personal accounts. 6) Since the laws don't get published openly, people keep writing cheques not knowing the consequences or limitations. Banks should give every cheque book owner a one pager on the consequences of cheque bounces in the UAE. Lots of people from the West automatically think that a cheque can be stopped, like in their home countries. Welcome any banker or lawyer to correct my understanding... or even present the alternate side - the positives of the current system. I can't think of anyone but a small minority that benefits from the status quo. I am stuck with a developer there - who advertised 50% payment until completion, 25% on handover, and 25% in installments after handover. Construction start was delayed for 12+ months, while, the developer helped himself to 40%, in some cases 60% of total payments by mid 2009. Having approached a law firm for help, their advise was to give us a lecture on the PDC system in the UAE, and the dire consequences of letting the cheques bounce. Add insult to injury - the developer's name turns up on a convicted fraud list from another country. The developer has no doubt found a perfect operating environment - one that incubates their practices. The latest twist. Buyers thought the new escrow laws would be of benefit.... since the developer would have to return the old cheques, and get them re-issued to the new escrow account. Instead, the Developer has somehow managed to work with the banks to allow the cheques to be endorsed into an account, other than the named party. What Mr. Ford did may make people sit up and take notice.... and expect more to come.

Posted by: Joe

Chahita you have clearly never been a business owner and you have probably never had any management responsibilities. It must be nice preaching from your cubicle....

Posted by: nasir

When someone starts a business he or she takes certain risks and expects some profits and possible losses. Similarly when a bank lends to a business its takes some risks based on the earning potential of the business and charges interest to cover that risk and puts liens on business assets. Risk and reward(profit or loss) is a basic principal both for the bank and a businessman but in Dubai it seems like all risks lie with the investor / business man and bank has to recover all its money plus interest without any risk all the time bankruptcy laws are better even in the sub continent, e.g. if u dont pay a house loan there u get notices, there a court case and finally if proven that u cant pay, the bank auctions ur property and u r free. Similarly if ur business cant pay back the bank, out of court settlements are done like just pay the principal or bank just sells whatever assets it has a right to . its not like you have given ur life to the bank against a loan. Plus a company is a legal entity around the world which takes the loan its not the individual. All cases and actions are taken against the company not the individual. Unless there is some misconduct. but here i don?t know of anything even close. Dubai badly need foreclosure/ bankruptcy laws. banks need to realize that they have taken a risk by lending and they cant always get back all their money. debt restructuring is a business transaction and not a criminal activity. in Dubai if i try to pay a mortgage ealry even than i m penalized. Wat a system!!

Posted by: Gilbert

I feel for Simon. As a small business owner, I was his neighbor (quite literally) in Media City and watched his meteoric rise. At the same time my business grew yet the difference is I knew when to stop, swallow my pride, regroup my company and just plainly get into survival mode to ride out the economic catastrophe that hit Dubai. While I feel for him, he quite frankly didn't know how to manage his business. It is easy to make money when times are good. Your true business acumen is shown when business is slow and conditions are difficult. He overextended himself and now all the stakeholders are suffering. What he did is exceptionally dishonorable. Everything he wrote about is spin. This has nothing to do with the 'rules' of Dubai. We opened businesses here knowing what these rules are. We borrowed money knowing what these rules are. We hired knowing what these rules are. Mismanagement has nothing to do with rules. And that is where the spin comes in. He is not a hero. He just makes it more difficult for the rest of us small business owners at Media City (and elsewhere) to get the funding that we need to survive. Shame.

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