FIFA2022’s host country Qatar told “Free Trapped British Nationals”, detained 73 year old speaks out
73 year old Gloucestershire resident Ranald Crook and his family excitedly decided to relocate to Qatar in 2005 but little did they know, this endeavour would leave him separated from his family, his children, absent at his father’s death; stuck in the desert facing lifelong captivity and possible incarceration in Doha’s notorious central prison.
Qatar’s ambition has been steadily growing over the past decade, and especially since the Saudi led blockade, the country has increased its competitiveness in the propaganda war that has plagued the region; investing into universities, news and media outlets, think tanks and business commerce groups. With this vigorous effort, the country has managed to attract entrepreneurs, investors and development, including Doha becoming a major transit hub.
Like the UAE has exemplified, like future Saudi Arabia will, there is a colossal difference between what is marketed to expats and tourists and what reality is on the ground. It is this unspoken discrepancy that has led to the downfall of so many expat entrepreneurs in the Gulf.
While Qatar has made complaints to the International Criminal Court in respect of human rights violations during the blockade, it has also been the subject of criticisms for violations against migrant workers after winning the bid for FIFA 2022. Qatar was commended by human rights organisations for the improvements they made to worker conditions. Overlooked, however, are professional expatriates who bring their skills and funding to Qatar to improve the country, its image, economy and international standing, only to find themselves abused, robbed and behind bars wondering what went wrong.
Father of two, Ranald Crook, a seasoned Chartered Civil Engineer and construction professional, was accustomed to directing large scale projects abroad, including Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Burj Al Arab. Excited to be forming a construction company in Qatar, a seemingly lucrative location with limitless possibilities, he founded Geosan/Construction Dynamics. Similarly to the UAE, Qatar requires foreign nationals to enlist local Qatari nationals as partners in their businesses, even if their involvement is silent.
Ranald founded the company with two international companies and partnered with two Qatari brothers, Abdul Hadi Awjan Al Hajri. and Hamad Awjan Al Hajri (not to be confused with Abdulhadi Mana Al-Hajri, the reported new owner of the Ritz hotel in London). The brothers were entitled to 2.25% of the company’s turnover in return for dealing with local matters such as procurement of visas, securing payments on time and settlement of claims. They invested no money in the company. The brothers neglected their duties and as a consequence, on one prestigious building contract it took four years to secure settlement of significant claims. As a result of their failures, the company suffered substantial losses and the Chairman of the major shareholder ordered all payments to the brothers be halted.
The Hajri brothers retaliated. In June 2014, they refused to renew Ranald’s Exit Permit to prevent him from leaving Qatar, and in August 2014 Abdul Hadi Awjan Al Hajri took out a Civil legal action falsely claiming that Ranald had mismanaged the company and that owed Al Hajri QR 5 million. Involvement in a court case where money was allegedly owed resulted in Ranald being subjected to a Travel Ban.
Of course, the allegations Al Hajri made were unfounded, and easily disproved. A full expert audit of the company was performed and found that, rather than owing Al Hajri any money, he had actually been over-paid and Ranald himself was owed some QR 7 million in unpaid wages. Though the case was initially rejected on evidence, Al Hajri appealed, and Ranald endured over 2 years of hearings and procedures before the first case was finally thrown out at the Court of Cassation.
But the brothers would not stop. After failing in the first Civil Case, Hamad Awjan Al Hajri then filed a second civil case, the same as the first but dropping allegations that a sum of QR 5.0m was due to him. Strangely no court papers were received and six months after it had commenced Ranald discovered its existence. When finally secured the Court papers had the correct address but had never been delivered. In his absence from the court another Travel Ban had been imposed. It should not have been, as no sum of money was claimed.
At the same time they filed a criminal complaint against Ranald in 2016 alleging bribery and corruption related to settlement of claims on a construction contract. Another travel ban was imposed by the Public Prosecutor while he investigated the allegations. The allegations were rejected as Ranald had once again produced the necessary paperwork verifying that all proper procedures had been followed; but the investigation itself took months.
The Expert appointed by the Court in the second civil case to review the company finances, had determined that the profit had been understated by more than QR 8,0m thus avoiding the imposition of Tax. The company accounts had been audited by Ernst & Young and by Geosan Group’s Auditor SGS.
When Ranald asked the expert, how he had arrived at this conclusion, the Expert responded that he had only taken note of papers translated from English to Arabic. The papers that were translated were those requested by the Expert.
Al Hajri brothers then took this Expert’s Report to the Public Prosecutor as proof of criminal intent and a Criminal case was raised, which under the law should not have been possible, but resulted in Ranald spending a night in Police cells, under the direction of the Station Commander, one Abdullah Al Hajri. Subsequently this case was investigated and rejected by the Court in November 2018.
The next stop by Al Hajri was the Tax Department with the same Expert’s Report stating understatement of profit. This then translated into another Criminal Case which is still ongoing. The Tax Department appears to have decided that bank finance is actually income!
The brothers were clearly engaging in a campaign of harassment through frivolous legal action; in fact they would continue filing complaint after complaint, all without merit, all for apparently extortive purposes, and nearly always rejected by the courts.
This endless legal abuse has left Ranald trapped in Qatar for six years, separated from his family and ravaging his savings.
One reason why this has been allowed to continue is because the Al Hajri brothers happen to belong to a large and influential family with a pervasive presence in the government. “Wasta” roughly translates into English as social influence and connections, and the Al Hajri brothers have a lot of it, and as a foreigner, Ranald has none. Despite spending most of his life helping to build the Gulf countries, acting as almost a private sector ambassador of British know-how and enterprise for decades, Ranald was one of the earliest Western entrants into the construction sector in the Middle East when most people considered it too risky, but now he is being outrageously abused by a system that continues to favour locals and dismisses the basic rights of expats who are guilty until proven innocent.
Ranald’s wife Marie was forced to leave Qatar when her husband’s exit visa was cancelled for she too, would have been travel banned. During Ranald’s forced stay in Qatar, his father’s health deteriorated in 2014, leaving Marie as the only person who could look after him in England. After suffering a heart attack, sadly he died in January 2015. Ranald was not able to attend his funeral due to the Travel Ban.
The human toll that legal abuse in Qatar has on victims is reprehensible. Marie recounts “the heartache that we have had to endure these past years, I do not wish upon anyone. We have been holding on to my father-in-law’s ashes for six years. It just doesn’t feel right without my husband here. Our sons, Ross and Nathan, are struggling with the possibility that their father may never make it home.
“For me personally, I am still in a state of shock that this could happen. I feel like I have been grief stricken and that it will never end. Alone, I have had to care for Ranald’s father and undergo a painful hip replacement operation that went wrong.
“I am also stunned that the British government has done so little to help when this is a clear cut abuse case. I pray for my husband’s return so that we can finally meet our grandson together for the first time and recover from this soul depleting trauma.”
Though until now Ranald has been successfully fighting the false cases against him, his family fears eventually the court may bend to the influence of the Al Hajri family. If Ranald is ultimately convicted he would face incarceration in conditions that have been documented to be unspeakably bleak.
The grim jail houses as many as 12 prisoners to one dirty, cockroach-infested cell with inmates having to either bed down on a paper thin mattress or the rock solid floor. Temperatures in the summer are sweltering but there is little access to drinking water. Access to communication and the availability of medicines are highly restricted. Abuse by prison guards is reportedly common, and prisoners are not separated according to their respective offences, with violent convicts housed alongside those jailed for financial disputes, with predatory violence and fights breaking out within prison walls on a regular basis.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Doha comments, “What is happening to Ranald in Qatar is distressingly common throughout the GCC. These countries vie for foreign investment, and they recruit Western professionals to help build successful companies; but turn around and treat them as disposable and their investments as free gifts. When they are challenged, because they know the court system will support them, they level false accusations against their expat victims. In Qatar we have seen that in the cases of Joe Sarlak and Jonathan Nash, both of whom were essentially scapegoated for the wrongdoing of local business associates. In Ranald’s case, the locals did not want to do the work but still want to be paid, and they feel they can harass Ranald indefinitely through the courts. So far, they have been right, but this abuse has to end. Countries like Qatar and the UAE cannot continue to exploit and abuse Western professionals and investors while simultaneously touting their countries as hubs for investment and entrepreneurship.
“Qatar has also become one of the world’s top abusers of the Interpol Red Notice system, along with the UAE. They routinely issue Interpol alerts over private debt and financial disputes; wrongfully using Red Notices as a device for debt collection and virtual extortion. Western investors need to realise the severe risks they face when they do business in Qatar, and the broader GCC; just because these countries facilitate investment and the creation of companies by foreigners does not mean that they also provide protections for them; expats are extremely vulnerable even if they follow all the rules; all it takes is one dissatisfied local to turn your life upside down.”
Stirling has approached Qatar's Ambassador to the United Kingdom but has so far, received no response.
Is Dubai safe for former British military personnel? Former soldier says not, as latest victim Robin Berlyn told he’ll never leave Dubai without paying “impossible amount of money”
Perry Coppins, a former gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery, who was detained in 2017 for having his prescription anti-depressants, believes that former British service personnel should be wary about visiting the Middle Eastern state of Dubai.
Perry, 64, had his antidepressants stored neatly in his cabin together with the prescription document when he was passing through Abu Dhabi port as part of his maritime security job.
The border official decided on a whim that Perry had too many of his pills (Perry was on a long sea voyage, so his UK doctor gave him several months worth of his prescription). Perry was arrested and jailed. The father of 2, who is also a cancer victim, went through hell in a notorious Abu Dhabi prison, facing several years imprisonment before finally being released after a successful media campaign led by Detained in Dubai.
“A lot of British ex-forces personnel try and start a new life in Dubai,” Perry explains. “I only had the misfortune to be passing through the place. I had my Temazepam pills, which are legal anyway in the UAE. However the customs officer who saw them decided to make a unilateral decision, not backed up by any UAE law, that I had too many boxes of them. I was removed from the ship, arrested and facing years in jail without treatment for my prostate cancer. It was terrifying. And without Radha Stirling and her team getting my case out there in the media, I would either be still in jail or maybe have passed away.
“Andy Neal, an ex army dog handler who had a dog training business in Dubai has also just been freed after his lengthy wrongful detention and subsequent acquittal.
"Like myself he suffers severe PTSD and was in a notorious Abu Dhabi jail for allegedly being a drug dealer. He served 14 months before the police undid their mistake. There was no evidence against him at all except for a witness statement based on mistaken identity. The police quickly realised that Andy was innocent but still kept him in a dangerous jail for well over a year before Detained in Dubai’s media campaign got him released.
“Then we had John Murphy, an ex infantryman who was facing jail for touching a man’s hip. He was again freed only after the world’s media took an interest in his case.
“Now we have Robin Berlyn who was set up to take the fall for some pretty serious fraudsters who stole a load of money from people in Dubai but made sure all the business and accounts were in Robin’s name. He has served 16 months in a horrendous Dubai jail and has been told he may never leave Dubai until he pays £100,000. A sum he has no chance of obtaining. Robin is homeless, in need of hospital treatment and has not one pound to his name. He survives on handouts and cash work where he can get it.
“There are hundreds, if not thousands of people in the same boat. These are just recent people who were lucky enough to be published in the media.
“Clearly non military personnel also fall victim to the unforgiving Dubai legal system, but from my own experience, ex soldiers are even more vulnerable than civilians.
“I believe it is because of the military mindset. In the armed forces a career soldier learns that when they behave correctly, according to the systems in place, they are rewarded. Perhaps with responsibility, perhaps with promotions or commendations.
“The military is far from infallible but I think that soldiers, more than most people, expect and rely on a system that will back them up. The military way of doing things is constantly refined and improved in order to keep fighting units effective and efficient. A soldier, mess hall gripes notwithstanding, generally has faith that if they do the right thing, to the best of their ability, the system will look after them.
“Now take that same soldier to a country like Dubai, with a legal system that is totally unreliable. Ex soldiers often don’t realise that they no longer have a ‘safety net’ of common sense to rely on. There is nobody who will say, ‘obviously what has happened to this person is wrong. We need to get it sorted out.’
"Andy Neal, for example will have had complete faith that once the police admitted they had made a mistake, that he would then be released. Never in a million years would he have considered that he would still be in jail 14 months later and facing another possible 20 years inside.
“This latest case with Robin Berlyn is the same. The police know he has had none of the money that the fraudsters took. They can see that the masterminds have long since escaped and that Robin is as much of a victim as anyone else involved in the sorry mess.
"Robin will have assumed that if he was completely open, if he cooperated without any holding back, and helped as much as he could, that the system would take this into account.
“He will probably even have accepted the 16 month sentence he has already served as just punishment for his, perhaps foolishly, allowing himself to be the company director and signatory. Ok, he wasn’t to know he was being set up to take the blame for a fraud operation but he would have taken this punishment on the chin and learned his lesson. British soldiers are resilient like that.
“What he could never have expected, and probably still can’t get his head around will be the fact that Dubai is saying he can never, ever leave the country.
"He has to stay there, not legally allowed to work, unable to eat, with nowhere to live, and in desperate need of hospital treatment until he pays £100,000. This sum is totally out of reach for him. It will be incomprehensible to him that Dubai is literally telling him: ‘you have to starve to death.’
"The fact that he has been reported to be suicidal is no surprise to me. I felt like that myself before Radha Stirling and her team were able to get me home and free.
“Hopefully Radha can help Robin, as she helps many others, but really what’s needed is for everyone to be more aware of the dangers waiting for the unsuspecting visitor to Dubai. Not just ex soldiers, but everyone else too.”
Radha Stirling, the CEO of Detained in Dubai, the leading organisation working to help victims of the UAE legal system says, “It is always disturbing when a British expat is wrongfully detained or falsely accused in the UAE, but of course, it is particularly offensive and damaging to bilateral relations when that expat is a former member of the British armed services. These are people who have served their country with distinction and bravery, quite often helping to secure the shared interests of our two countries in war zones throughout the region.
“They frequently suffer from psychological and emotional trauma as a result of their service and sacrifice, and have gone to the UAE hoping to build a stable future. No one can dispute that British servicemen and women have contributed immensely to the safety of the Gulf, helping to create the conditions for its prosperity; so when our veterans are victimised by legal abuse in the UAE, it is deeply upsetting to the entire British public. It is even more troubling when the FCO fails to intervene adequately on their behalf, considering their years of distinguished service.
“Cases like that of Robin, Andy Neal, Perry Coppins, and John Murphy seem to be occurring with increasing frequency; as are the incidence of legal abuse against expats in general.
"The world is beginning to recognise the risks inherent in the UAE legal system and the unreliability of the government in protecting human rights; and the UAE has become a far less attractive destination for tourists and investors over the past few years. Serious reforms need to be pursued in the UAE, not just better marketing, before British expats and tourists can feel safe visiting the country.”