'Millions' owed to Dubai fruit and vegetable traders after businessman goes missing

Traders at Al Awir market say the owner of an export company who owes them millions has absconded.

UAE - Dubai - Dec 27 - 2011: Fresh Fruits Trading store at Al Awir Fruits and Vegetable market. This shop was previously known as Organge Line Foodstuff. ( Jaime Puebla - The National Newspaper )
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DUBAI // More than a dozen traders at Al Aweer's Fruits and Vegetable Market say they are facing massive financial losses after a businessman who owed them "millions" allegedly absconded.

The owner of Orange Line food store, Mohammed Ashraf from India, bought fruit and vegetables from the traders to export to GCC countries but has not been seen since last Saturday, the traders claim.

"There is no protection for traders in the Al Aweer market," said a businessman who allegedly lost Dh88,000. "This is the second time that I am facing this kind of situation. Last year, also, one trader ran away without paying me the amount due."

The Fruit and Vegetable Market, located on Emirates Road near Dubai International City, houses more than 250 stalls.

Abdul Jaleel, the owner of Dubai-based Pan Viet Foodstuff company, said he supplied fruits and vegetables worth Dh200,000 to Orange Line.

"The company has been closed since Saturday and no employee is in the office. All the phones are switched off and there is no trace of the owner," he said. "At least 15 businessmen are affected because of the closing of the company."

The National tried to contact Mr Ashraf on his mobile and on his office lines, but his mobile was switched off and his office phones went unanswered. A trip to his offices on Monday yielded no results either: the doors were firmly locked and the office was empty.

A businessman from Farzana Trading, a UAE-based import company among those affected, said that Mr Ashraf owed them Dh600,000. "He bought fruits and vegetables from us and did not pay. We tried calling his home in India but there has been no response," he said.

He said they filed a complaint at Rashidiya Police Station and sought the help of Interpol to catch the culprit. "He used to purchase goods from Indian and Chinese businessmen to export. Everyone is facing a loss."

Police did not confirm or deny the incident but said the traders should contact the CID.

None of Mr Ashraf's 30 employees is traceable, according to a Farzana Trading employee. "It is traders like us who are in loss because of the attitude of some businessman. They rent the shop to do business and if some problem happens, they close and run away."

A second staff member at Farzana Trading said they had suspected Mr Ashraf would run away and were dealing with him carefully.

"He was buying too much stuff suddenly, creating doubts whether he would stay or run away. We advised our staff members to be careful while dealing with him."

Mr Jaleel said he would wait awhile longer before approaching the police. "He used to export food to Kuwait, Saudi and Qatar. We heard he had absconded to Kuwait but we are not sure about it. A lot of businessman of Iranian and Chinese origin are badly affected."

Jayapalan Nair, the owner of Dubai-based fruit importers South Link International Foodstuff, said he lost Dh125,000 due to the closing of the company. "I am facing a big loss. All the cheques bounced and there is no information about the man."

He said traders are discussing among themselves what to do next and how to get back the money. "There seems to be no scope of getting back our money. We don't know where the man is hiding," he said. "Small businessmen who dealt with him are the worst affected."

A businessman who preferred to remain anonymous, but who claimed he'd lost close to Dh100,000, said: "Traders should sit together and work out a plan to prevent such situations, otherwise more incidents will happen in future. A lot of traders in Al Aweer market are illiterate and do not understand the rules. The authorities should step in with stricter rules and regulations."

Additional reporting by Wafa Issa