Cabin crew conned in Dubai forex scheme hire private investigators in bid to claim back millions

More than 240 people who have invested in the Exential scheme have contacted Carlton Huxley, a private UK firm of legal and law enforcement consultants specialising in complex fraud investigations.

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DUBAI // Investors who say they have lost millions of dirhams in a Dubai foreign exchange scam have turned to private investigators from the UK to help to recover their funds.

More than 240 people have contacted Carlton Huxley, a private firm of legal and law enforcement consultants specialising in complex fraud investigations.

Experts from the firm visited Dubai this week to interview those claiming to have lost huge sums through the Exential trading scheme run from Dubai Media City.

It is thought more than 6,000 investors deposited about US$300 million (Dh1.1 billion).

Investigators will now try to locate the money and are taking steps to recover funds for their clients, many of them Emirates crew, from Exential parent company FCI Markets Ltd, based in the British Virgin Islands.

“If the money has been stolen our view is to bring criminal and/or civil action against the company in the British Virgin Islands,” said Bill Ferguson, a senior investigator at Carlton Huxley, who is determined to recover some of the cash.

Mr Ferguson is a former Metropolitan police officer.

“We’ve been in the UAE to interview victims and conduct a forensic audit into where the money has gone, and the legitimacy of those transactions.

“We are aware there have been three big schemes in Dubai in less than five years that have touched a large number of people, most of whom are cabin crew.”

Investigators are concerned that the level of debt loaded on to cabin crew could have huge implications on the Dubai airline industry.

As the crippling fallout from these financial schemes continues, the focus shifts towards the impact on crew and their mountains of debt.

Mr Ferguson said young, debt-ridden women in these cases are often soft targets to be lured into prostitution.

“From the work we’ve done so far, it appears the size of these schemes in terms of number of victims and the amount of money involved has not yet registered with the authorities here in Dubai,” Mr Ferguson said.

“We always cooperate fully with the authorities and will also be speaking to Emirates to inform them of the scale of the problem in order for them to either work with us or form their own approach to this.”

Promises of 120 per cent investment returns from the Exential scheme dried up this year, and the Department for Economic Development ordered the company to cease trading in July while it conducted its own investigation.

Lawyers at MAD Advocates in Dubai are representing many other clients who claim to have lost substantial sums through the same scheme. Ala’a Momtaz, an associate at the law firm, said it could be a long process to recover any funds through the courts.

Meanwhile Kareem, a chef, is leading a group that is hoping to recover funds with help from Carlton Huxley.

“Exential was the first investment I had come across in Dubai, because my wife, who is cabin crew, was approached,” he said. “It had been focused on the entire UAE aviation sector. It looked straightforward, so we invested $60,000.

“On every flight she is on, at least two crew members have accounts and lost money. I’ve heard so many sickening stories. It has affected people rapidly and in different ways.”

Some investors took out huge loans to cover their initial stake, with accounts opening from $20,000 (Dh73,500).

Average cabin crew salary is about Dh7,000 a month, so it represents a substantial financial commitment, with some left unable to repay their loans.

“It is hard for crew to go to their employers to admit they are in so much debt,” Kareem said.

“Many are scared and don’t know where to turn, they are worried about losing their jobs.

"An alarming number of people have contacted me to say they have been approached by loan sharks offering to buy out their loans."