Dubai Police to issue international arrest warrant for property conman

The man who property experts describe as one of the biggest-ever rental scam artists has fled the country, Dubai Police say.

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DUBAI // Police will issue an international arrest warrant for a man believed to have embezzled at least Dh8 million in rent through a subletting scam.

More than 350 tenants – including at least 130 residents who had recently renewed their contracts – may now lose their homes after renting through a bogus property agent whi identified himself as Haitham Mahmoud Al Kouatly, 34, and said he was the chief executive of Shamyana Entertainment. Those who signed leases for the properties knew him as Sam.

A source who worked at Shamyana Entertainment said about 130 leases were signed for between Dh60,000 to Dh100,000 during the months of June, July and August.

The source also said the lease cheques to landlords would bounce in coming weeks.

Police shut down the Tecom office of the events company yesterday, said the source, a day after the conman is thought to have fled.

“He carried out his scam and managed to escape the country before his crime [was] uncovered,” said a senior police official, adding the man was of Syrian origin but was holding Saudi citizenship.

“We are investigating the case and we will seek an international arrest warrant against him for fraud,” said the official, adding police was yet to ascertain where he had fled to.

The exact scope of the con is still unclear as many people have not reported him. Police have urged victims to file complaints at their nearest police station.

Al Kouatly’s well-plotted scam began in 2010, when he told real estate agents that as chief executive of Shamyana Entertainment he needed to rent apartments across the emirate for 500 employees.

He is then believed to have illegally sublet the homes he had rented in The Greens, Views, Burj Downtown, Jumeirah Beach Residences, Motor City and Springs, telling prospective tenants he was the owner.

He registered most Dewa accounts in his company’s name, except for about 80 of them, which were registered in various landlords’ names.

His victims were mostly in The Greens, where he rented more than 250 studio flats, one-bed and two-bed apartments. On Wednesday night, a group of affected tenants from The Greens met for the third time to plot a course of action in an bid to get back their money, pay the real landlords and stay in their homes.

Most of his victims were British, but also included Egyptians, Americans, Canadians, Indians, Filipinos and even an Emirati.

About 50 tenants gathered in the Al Tayyal building lobby. Among them were tenants who had paid rents from Dh50,000 to Dh115,000 for studios, one-bed and two-bedroom flats in the Emaar development.

“Many of my neighbours have the same problem,” said Mounir, who paid Dh55,000 in a single cheque.

Another tenant, Lyn, who asked to be identified by only her first name, said: “My lease was up for renewal in December, but since he offered me 13 months at a price of a 12-month lease, I agreed to one cheque. The cheque was cashed next day. I found that surprising but didn’t think too much of it because mutual friends had rented from him, plus I had lived in the apartment for a year.

“When I heard Sam had left the country from friends, I desperately tried all the numbers, but they said they didn’t work for him any more.

“Then I got a note under my door from the real landlords saying there was a problem with the apartment and I needed to contact them. Nobody knows what to do.”

By the end of the hour-long meeting in The Greens, the group decided to consult lawyers and visit the Dewa office as soon as possible.

“Everyone has decided to first get Dewa sorted,” said a third tenant, who asked not to be named. “And do whatever they can to ensure they don’t cut us off. Our aim is stay here.”

They also agreed they would invite the real landlords to meet the tenants either individually or as a group to discuss the situation and perhaps reach a compromise.

None of the tenants who gathered in The Greens had registered their leases with Ejari, the Real Estate Regulatory Agency’s rental watchdog.

Alexis Waller, a partner at the law firm Clyde & Co, said the scam may have been detected earlier if tenants and landlords had registered their contracts under the Ejari scheme due to the ownership paperwork required.

“I believe it is likely to have been picked up,” said Ms Waller. “The registration would not have gone through if ownership evidence was not presented or the agent was not properly authorised to register. Any subleasing taking place would also have become apparent.”