Suspicious wives turn to illegal private eyes

Companies operate discreetly - and charge high fees - to track husbands suspected of cheating to give wives evidence for court.

LONDON.8th February 2011. Private investigator Paul Hawkes at his office in London.  Stephen Lock for The National FOR NATIONAL
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DUBAI // Suspicious wives are increasingly employing private detectives to check up on their husbands, even though the practice is illegal.

A handful of international private investigation firms claim to have offices in Dubai that are doing a brisk trade in matrimonial investigations.

Many ask high fees for this work, because of the danger of being caught by police.

"It's very risky, because what we do is illegal in the UAE," said Allen Brik, president of Blue Star Investigations in Canada. "Even so, there's a huge and growing market for investigations there."

The interest is generated largely by the need for evidence in divorce cases. Before a woman can apply for separation she is required to have at least two witnesses or documents proving abuse or mistreatment.

Mr Brik said that 75 per cent of his UAE clients were women, half of them Emirati. Most male clients were expatriates, he said, explaining that in his experience it was extremely rare for Emirati men to ask for investigation of their wives.

Mohammed al Redha, an expert in family law and partner at Al Redha and Company Advocates, said there was no excuse for women to hire private investigators. "It's illegal for sure," he said. "[Third parties] don't have the right to investigate these things. There are so many other ways for people to get the evidence."

Private detectives risk criminal charges, including taking pictures of people without their consent and blackmail, according to a senior Dubai Police official.

"Private investigation companies are not licensed and are not allowed to operate in the country," he said. "Anyone caught doing so is breaking the law. Anyone who discovers that they are being monitored by someone can file a case and we will take the necessary action against that person."

On its website, the Panama-based International Security Operations Group claims to conduct matrimonial investigations in the UAE.

"We have to do it in a very discreet way because it's not allowed," said an investigator from the company who regularly travels to work in the UAE. "We get our assignments abroad and we go there and do the job. We do have an agent … based in Dubai, but we don't meet our clients there directly."

A range of techniques is available to a private investigator, including hacking into a phone or computer to retrieve e-mail and text message data, and attaching a hidden GPS device to a car to track where someone has gone.

However, one of the most common tactics is old-fashioned surveillance.

Investigators say the client is advised to flood the spouse's social calendar for a period of up to two weeks. Then the client is told to create an opportunity - one night where the spouse can slip away to meet another person.

If such a meeting takes place, the detective can take a table near them in a restaurant, or a room next to them at a hotel, and try to obtain video or photographic evidence to back up a divorce case.

Mr Brik said 40 per cent of his business in the UAE came from matrimonial investigations. He has a dozen investigators - Emiratis and expatriates - working in Dubai.

His company typically charges US$150 an hour; a case can take between two days and two weeks.

Other security companies with offices in Dubai include the US-based World Homeland Security and CSD Global - the firm set up by Tarique Ghaffur, the former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London.

The London-based Research Associates has also conducted matrimonial investigations in the UAE. "Normally cases like this involve a strategic partner in the region," said Paul Hawkes, a senior investigator with the firm.

"It's not my favourite area to be dealing with. Some things which are completely reasonable here [in the UK] are not at all reasonable there."

He said people who hire locally-based investigators, however, are risking high fees for a questionable service. "Most of them aren't that good," he said. "There are a lot of people who are selling smoke."

This article has been amended since publication. CSD Global has offices in Dubai but does not carry out investigations there.