Arabian Business, along with the rest of the world, first came into contact with London-based businessman Safi Qurashi as he held a stick and carved out a crude map of Great Britain in the sand. As he stood on a deserted island four miles off the coast of Dubai he seemed, literally, to have ‘The World’ at his feet.
This was 2009, but as real estate prices were in freefall and plunged nearly 60 percent in Dubai, Qurashi didn’t seem in the slightest bit stressed by the $60m price tag he had paid for a man-made island in the shape of his beloved British homeland in the middle of the Arabian Gulf.
“It makes a great story, doesn’t it? We bought it in the middle of a recession,” he joked at the time.
As Qurashi later posed with a series of British standards — a china teacup, a bowler hat and a Union Jack flag — he seemed to have no sense of the turmoil that was about to engulf him and his family and which would bring him crashing back down to earth.
Fast forward to 2012 and he has gone from signing multi-million-dollar real estate deals to reading up on legal textbooks in Dubai Central Jail in a bid to clear his name and prove his innocence.
“I had really bad legal advice in the first year,” he says despondently. “After spending a year in jail and reading almost every law book that is around I’ve become a bit of an expert and I have got this far without lawyers.”
Having arrived in Dubai in 2004, Qurashi’s company, Premier Real Estate Bureau, was selling nearly 800 properties a year by 2007 and in 2008 it was turning an annual profit of over $400m.
Operating as a middle man for most of the deals, difficulties arose as liquidity began to evaporate and some of the Dubai deals he had brokered began to unravel, particularly those relating to the Dubai Waterfront project and a joint venture to develop the Monaco and Iraq islands on ‘The World’.
In both deals, Qurashi forwarded security cheques to his partners as part of the agreement. However, when these were cashed, police cases were lodged against him and he and his business partner were imprisoned for cheque fraud.
“We have done nothing wrong,” Qurashi told the media upon his arrest. “We’re not criminals, we are victims of the system.”
Following a court hearing, he was sentenced to serve seven years in jail and the decision was upheld in an appeal in 2010.
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