As fraud cases rise, FNC calls for more severe penalties

FNC members tell the Government the three-year maximum jail sentence is not long enough for the crime.

ABU DHABI // Citing a rash of fraud cases involving billions of dirhams, FNC members yesterday told the Government it should toughen up the penalties for the crime. The maximum federal jail term for fraud is three years, but FNC representatives said that was not enough in some cases. The law "doesn't keep up with the changes in the society and the growing number of crimes of fraud", said Mohammed al Zaabi, a member from Sharjah at yesterday's council session. "If someone swindled Dh1 million he faces three years, and if he swindled Dh100m he also faces three years," Mr al Zaabi said. "There should be some differentiation; the penalty should increase if the value of the fraud was high." Mr al Zaabi presented documents and pictures to his fellow representatives of an Arab man who allegedly swindled Dh20 million from a group of investors last year. The Dubai Government last month increased its penalty for fraud to between five and 20 years in jail in the wake of investigations that resulted in court cases involving an alleged Dh3.7 billion (US$1bn) in bribes and theft. The Minister of Justice, Dr Hadef al Dhahiri, who attended the FNC session, said the federal law might also be changed. "Laws are not sacred. If there is a need to change the law, we change it," he said. "The ministry's responsibility is to listen to the judges who implement the laws. There are ways to change the laws if the crimes are increasing or if the law is not deterring enough." Khalid al Falasi, an FNC member from Dubai, agreed the law was outdated in light of the development boom over the past decade. "We don't only need to toughen penalties, but also study the whole issue [of financial crimes] and its root causes," he said. "Everyone worked in property development. A new ways of tricking emerged and the criminal law became old." Dubai's move to stiffen penalties last month was widely welcomed by financial experts and members of the judiciary. "It's better to have a nationwide law," said Dr Nasser Saidi, the chief economist at the Dubai International Financial Centre. "Questioning and accountability is a good thing that we're in need of." In March 2008, Dubai launched a campaign against corruption in government-related firms that has resulted in 15 investigations and court cases involving 40 senior executives. Hamad al Madfaa, a representative from Sharjah, said there was agreement among most FNC members that more stringent federal laws were needed. Mr al Zaabi said the fraud case he presented could also indicate corruption in the federal judiciary, because the man was able to flee the country despite being on trial. "A member of the judiciary issued orders twice to revoke an arrest warrant which enabled the suspect to flee the country the day he was supposed to be tried," he said. One of the documents obtained by Mr al Zaabi said the orders annulling the warrant arrest against the suspect bore signatures that did not correspond to those of the Sharjah Public Prosecutor. The Government should seize the passports of foreigners on trial, Mr al Zaabi said, and keep samples of their DNA to ensure that once they left the country, they do not return under different names. Mr al Zaabi said he obtained the documents from the investors. They included a picture of the suspect sitting in the front row of a gathering that included several top government officials.