'When the world fell from under Safi Qurashi's feet'
The jailed businessman who bought Great Britain - the island on The World development off the coast of Dubai - has spoken to 7DAYS from jail for the first time about how he landed behind bars.
Safi Qurashi has been in prison for two and a half years after, he claims, a fellow businessman tried to cash a cheque that Qurashi had cancelled at the bank.
He says the bank sent a ‘refer to drawer’ letter instead of saying the cheque had been stopped, which lead to him being prosecuted. Qurashi, 43, has tried to overturn his conviction on numerous occasions, including at the Court of Appeal and Cassation Court, but has been unsuccessful in each attempt.
He and his family, though, continue to campaign for the authorities to revisit his case, claiming a court-appointed auditor found Qurashi had paid his victims and fulfilled his contracts. Now he has joined dozens of other prisoners at Dubai Central Jail on hunger strike. Almost 40 prisoners are believed to have
committed to the strike in recent weeks after another debtor, Irish expat Chris Renehan, started refusing food a month ago.
Speaking yesterday, 19 days into his protest, Qurashi told 7DAYS: “We want to be heard, we want the laws of the UAE to be applied to us, the constitution of the UAE to be upheld, answers to the questions we have asked.” Qurashi said he believed that when he went to court he would get the chance to tell his side of the story - he claims he had paid the money owed and hoped the court would appoint its own auditor to prove it.
But, he said: “It was a 30-second trial. I confirmed that the signature on the cheque was mine and that was it. Under the law the court has to prove bad intent. Simply bouncing a cheque is not enough proof of that.
“My family has spent two years running around from department to department...The only way now is the hunger strike.” He said his company was successful and turning over $1 billion a year despite the financial crash in 2009. He was arrested in January 2010.
But Qurashi, who still owns Great Britain, for which he paid £43 million ($69 million), said his business and his life are now ruined. There may be hope, though, as he claims that at a meeting with the chief prosecutor three weeks ago, he was told he would hear something
within a week. However, he said he is still waiting.
He said: “I lost my house last month. I’ve lost the will to carry on this way. I don’t want to die. I’m not hunger striking to die. I’m tired of being put in a prison cell and no-one is willing to accept ‘hey, maybe we made a mistake’.” Qurashi said he cannot do anything with his assets, such as the island, while he is behind bars.
And he said he could not find the words to describe what it was like being in prison. He said: “I can give you an analogy. Ask a man what the feelings of childbirth are like. There’s no way anyone can describe it. There are no words to describe what me and many others here have had to go through.
“We are among people who are on death row. Our dignity, our respect has been thoroughly stripped away. My family is suffering now trying to make ends meet while I’m in here. No words can ever encapsulate these feelings.”
DAUGHTER VOWS TO FIGHT ON TO FREE DAD
Safi Qurashi’s 13-year-old daughter Sara is a girl on a mission - to have her dad freed from jail in Dubai.
She has been running her website ‘Justice For My Dad’ since her father was incarcerated and she recently dedicated the site to all the hunger strikers in Dubai Central Jail. She makes regular video appeals for her dad’s release on YouTube and has campaigned in the cold outside the UAE Embassy in London.
Her dad said: “I’m stuck between being a father and having to see what the kids are going through, what they are having to deal with - things no teenager should ever have to face. In November she campaigned outside the UAE Embassy in London. It took me two weeks to persuade them to come back. I didn’t want them missing school.
“She’s going to go again as soon as the school exams end in a few weeks.” He added: “She told me she wants to hunger strike and I told her she shouldn’t be going on a hunger strike. But how can I hunger strike without her calling me a hypocrite? She’s absolutely determined, I’m desperately telling her not to do it.
“She knows my cases better than anyone, she’s read them all. She wants to be a lawyer when she leaves school.”
Sara said: “I will go to London with my sister Maaria, who turned 11 on Saturday. This has broken my family apart. My brother, Yusuf, is six and he thinks dad is in boarding school. He keeps asking why he can’t come home from school.