Criminal ineptitude: Tales from Dubai's courtrooms

From the embezzler tricked by a fraudster to the convict who ran over a police officer, mindless lawbreakers proliferate.

DUBAI // From pop star murders to international warlord assassinations, Dubai courts have seen it all. But far more interesting than these Hollywood-style crimes are the trials that reveal criminal ineptitude. "Every criminal tries to outsmart their inquisitors," said the criminal psychologist Mohammed al Hammadi. "Therefore, the differences in their levels of education, intelligence and environmental background yield different responses."

Take the example of RM, a 28-year-old Emirati who in August 2009 was sentenced to a year in jail for embezzling Dh4.2 million from unsuspecting clients. RM was not content with this sizeable sum - he wanted more. So he deposited his ill-gotten gains with the high-yield Al Boom Investment Fund, hoping to reap even more profit. Unfortunately for him, the chief executive of the fund, Abid al Boom, himself admitted embezzling Dh900m from 3,700 investors.

Perhaps RM was so trusting of the fund because he could not believe anyone was as capable of embezzling funds as he was. A professor at Cornell University, Dr David Dunning, has penned a name for such behaviour: the Dunning-Kruger Effect. His theory of incompetent behaviour suggests that criminals suffer from illusionary superiority, rating their ability as above average - usually far higher than it actually is.

"Apparently, unthinking crime is something that can be seen the world over," Dr Dunning said. "Passion is a most human emotion, but it can lead us to do things that lead us over the line to criminal, albeit entertaining, behaviour."   Passion was presumably the motive behind the acts of one prisoner released last March. The convict had learnt that his wife had remarried while he was still in prison. Upon his release, she refused to allow him into the house to collect his clothes, so he threatened to kill her. He did so loudly, while standing outside a police station, before following up on the threat by setting fire to her house, stealing her car and running over a police officer while trying to escape.

After he was caught, the man told prosecutors he had been advised by a fellow inmate to take revenge because his manhood was at stake. He was sent back to prison for another seven years.  A passionate betrayal also played a role in the case of an Egyptian couple charged for trafficking marijuana. JH, 46, denied asking his wife to smuggle the drug in her underwear on her return home from a holiday in Egypt. When investigators confronted him with his wife's drug test, which was negative, he questioned the validity of the test, saying he had witnessed her smoking the drug.

Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned. She responded with her own betrayal, telling prosecutors in exact detail how her husband had planned the crime. JH was given five years in jail. Matrimony, however, is not the only kind of partnership to have ended messily. A German TV station manager at Media City decided to take a 42-inch LCD TV as a souvenir after being dismissed from his company.  His defence in court was that he had been set up by his former employer who "had it in for him". This excuse appeared to have little effect as he was sentenced to three months in jail for theft.

When two Indian business managers faced off in court, one threatened to blow up the other's car if she didn't withdraw a lawsuit filed against him. The 50-year-old manager was sentenced to three months.  And a Bangladeshi cleaner took a different approach to resigning. He said on court record that "he wanted to end his service with the company, so decided to steal". His theft of a diamond-studded gold ring from the hotel he worked for had the desired effect: he lost his job and was sent to jail.

"There is no such thing as a professional criminal," said Mr al Hammadi. "All offenders are the same. The only difference between them is their methods." And, it seems, the level of stupidity involved in those methods.