Open letter from behind bars

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Frank Khoie, the imprisoned executive from Khoie Properties, has penned an open letter from prison that calls for wide reforms to the Ras al Khaimah's laws. Mr Khoie was sentenced to three years in prison for bouncing two cheques worth Dh114 million. He lays out the arguments very well.

He writes:

"If rapid progress, modernization and economic growth are to be sustained in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, judicial reform is urgently needed. The concepts of due process and presumptive innocence until proven guilty have yet to be fully implemented in UAE's northernmost emirate."

Across the UAE, it is automatically a crime when a cheque bounces. The issue is being addressed by top officials, including the Justice Minister Hadef al Dhahiri. Read about it

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Read the full letter after the jump ...

Full letter from Frank Khoie:

To Make the UAE Even Better
JUDICIAL REFORM IN RAS AL KHAIMAH URGENTLY NEEDED

If rapid progress, modernization and economic growth are to be sustained in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, judicial reform is urgently needed.  The concepts of due process and presumptive innocence until proven guilty have yet to be fully implemented in UAE's northernmost emirate.

Among the more draconian practices in RAK legal system is the current cheque law.  It is generally acknowledged in all civilized nation that writing a cheque without sufficient funds in the account to honor the cheque is not acceptable.  And modern legal systems have various civil remedies through which to address the problem.  In RAK, "bouncing a cheque allows prosecutors to immediately detain the person who issued the cheque in jail.  The detention takes place without any considerations regarding the nature of the transaction.

For instance, if there is a commercial contract between the parties stating specific remedies for non-payment, the prosecutor and judge have no legal obligation to take these contractual obligations into consideration.  When a charge is filed, the person who signed the cheque is arrested and detained as long as authorities wish until a trial is arranged.  When the accused is brought into the court the only relevant questions by the judge are if the accused signed the cheque, the sum whether or not the accused can meet the obligation of the financial instrument.  If not able, the accused is immediately sentenced to a jail term lasting from one month to three years.

There is a level of first appeal but the process is the same, no litigation is allowed and the judge can simply refuse to regard any petitions or legal explanation provided by the defendant's legal team.  At the appeal, the judge can either uphold the sentence or on occasion reduce it.

There are higher courts o appeal and eventually even an appeal to federal court.  But in extended time these appeals take place, the devastation continues.  The defendant remains in jail and in the case of the businessman, the ability to run the business in such a way as to create the success required to meet the obligation is to totally mitigated by the confinement to a prison with very limited visiting hours and almost no ability to conduct even the most fundamental business practices.  The process as it stands simply aggravates the negative financial consequences to the business, its customers, investors, and creditors, not to mention the defendant and his family.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, thousands of business professionals who lost their jobs or owned businesses that faced financial setbacks have had to literally flee the UAE due to their legitimate fears of detention because of security cheques issued.  In the absence of a humane, national legal system that allows financially troubles businesses and individuals to negotiate new payment plans with their creditors in order to feel safe and secure that he or she won't be arrested and imprisoned, no one will make a long term commitment to the emirates.

The cheque law is in urgent need of reform to reflect the reality that post dated cheques are essentially promissory notes for which a commitment is made at a future date to make payment in exchange for goods and services promised by the seller.  Any such agreement needs to be subject to a civil code that accesses both sides of the agreement.  At present, the person issuing the cheque can face conviction and imprisonment regardless of whether the recipient of the cheque has fulfilled their obligation(s) and such convictions have been made in exactly these circumstances.

In RAK, because there is no presumption of innocence until guilt is proven, the accused is simply dumped into prison without any regard for the circumstances surrounding the contract in question.  There are currently hundreds of persons going through this legal nightmare.  Businesses and families are devastated by the seriously flawed legal process through which no party wins.

When a charge is filed against the person issuing a cheque with insufficient funds, no magistrates or police officials are available to review any relevant financial documents in order to make a preliminary decision regarding bail.  A legal system that provides for such a process would allow an individual to post bail and return to his or her job rather than lose it or have their employer face the negative economic impact of their absence.  Likewise, the business owner can return to the business to make every effort to keep that business from becoming another casualty to the economic downturn while addressing the financial issue through a civil court process.

The honorable rulers of the UAE are urged to appoint a judicial committee consisting of competent lawyers and judges to draft a new financial legal system consistent with the standards of the developed nations of the world.  A fair and prudent judicial system founded on reasonable due process is not only a fundamental human right, but a cornerstone to social and financial success in an ever-expanding world economy.

Mr. Frank Khoie, Chairman

The Khoie Group