French national Reda Boulahdid and wife tell of blackmail ordeal by UAE customs officials
Mr. Boulahdid who is represented by UK legal group Detained in Dubai, says that his nightmare began with what he thought was a joke. A customs official visited his warehouse and demanded Boulahdid make him a partner in the company. Then, while he was out of the country, Ras Al Khaimah customs officials shut down his warehouse and authorities demanded he pay 20% of his business income to them.
No reasons were given for the closure, and no justification offered for why he should pay them a percentage of his profits. When he didn’t pay, a series of false allegations of commercial fraud were made against him and his car production factory was closed.
“Overnight four people were jobless. My entire inventory was blocked, all my files were stolen including those for the e-commerce venture I was working on in Germany. I'm not allowed to work. I'm not allowed to travel, but I still need to pay bank loans and all other payments,“ says Reda Boulahdid.
Mr Boulahdid had been running a medium sized international import/export business for car parts from a warehouse in Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) in the UAE. On the alleged pretence that not enough taxes had been paid on some of his imports, customs officials demanded to see 5 years of backdated transactions and paperwork to which Reda complied.
When the customs official said, “I can help you if you help me”, Reda knew something was wrong.
Reda Boulahdid and his wife found themselves in a dangerous situation which spiralled quickly out of control. Customs officials, Reda says, “kidnapped my wife, took her phone and the keys to my car, forced her inside and told her to show them our house. Completely shocked by what was happening, she panicked and tried to escape but the official chased and kidnapped her.“
Mrs Boulahdid was fortunately released unharmed after several hours, but the pair remain shaken and worried about their future in Ras Al Khaimah.
At the moment, courts and customs officials continue to demand paperwork and copies of documents from Mr Boulahdid, but the requested documents have already seized by the same customs department demanding to see them. Mr Boulahdid says that when they raided his home and business, they took his computers and also removed original copies of invoices and all paperwork, leaving him in a difficult position to defend himself.
He says he hopes that the official international paper trail left by the goods he was importing and exporting will prove his innocence, “They say that they found airway bills proving that I was smuggling goods without paying duties. But I have the customs declarations for all of those airways bills proving that I have paid those customs duties. “
The pair now both fear further vengeance from the families of the customs officials who wield considerable influence in Ras Al Khaimah.
The man who kidnapped Reda’s wife was laid off and the rest of the customs team were transferred out of RAK and thereby evaded any investigations into their roles in the alleged extortion scheme. Meanwhile, Reda still faces the trumped up charges made by the customs agent and his co-workers.
“Because of the closure of my company, outstanding cheques to customers cannot be paid,” he explains; which means the charges against Mr Boulahdid just keep coming, in the form of bounced cheque charges (an imprison-able offence in the UAE.) “This has become a chain reaction of new offences being caused by the previous ones, and I have no options left to resolve it”.
Not only has he been left with a catastrophic financial situation, Reda finds himself trapped in Ras Al Khaimah while his passport is held by the authorities carrying out “investigations” - this means he is unable to meet his business associates and clients abroad or to continue trading, or make any payments against business loans.
Reda has been unable to work since November 2016. He no longer has an office or place of storage. He says he has “desperately tried to start work again but without success” he has “tried to find work, but without a passport, it is impossible.”
Mr Boulahdid says he has tried all official routes to seek resolution but despite having had full trust in the UAE system, and believing that the RAK authorities would be keen to protect international business and investments, he has gradually come to the realisation that even corrupt UAE nationals are given precedence over foreigners and are protected from the consequences of their own misconduct.
"I put all my life savings into my company and a lot of hard work. Because I denied some powerful individuals a share in my company, they left me bankrupt and destitute.
“This affected not only me, but also my workers who lost their jobs and my wife who was assaulted.” Mr Boulhadid says everyone is aware that nothing is wrong with his company, but no one cares now that the charges have been made.
“There is no end in this. Now I also have to deal with the banks, the justice system here does not take into account any personal circumstances when dealing with security cheques.”
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, said in a statement, “Unfortunately, Mr. Boulahdid’s situation is one of many similar cases we are dealing with in the UAE. Entrepreneurs and investors would be well-advised to be cautious about doing business in the Emirates.
"The normal risks for an investor are multiplied in the UAE because success itself can be risky when either local partners or, as in Mr. Boulahdid’s case, unscrupulous government authorities seek to take control of a profitable company by fabricating criminal complaints against a foreign investor.
"We have expat clients from all around the world who have experienced this in the UAE, with total financial losses in the hundreds of millions of pounds.
“The customs agents whom Mr. Boulahdid says tried to extort money from him, who held his wife against her will and who seized his personal and business-related paperwork and equipment without a warrant, should be subject to a criminal investigation, rather than Mr. Boulahdid being tried on charges brought by these men.”