Worker paid Dh5m by mistake hands it back

Ajman worker given 1,000 times too much salary.

AJMAN // When Hashim Mohammed went to withdraw half of his monthly salary from his local branch of the Arab Union Bank on Monday, to say he was in for a shock is to put it mildly. Sitting in the Ajman Municipality worker's account was not the Dh5,000 he earns every month. Instead, on the screen before him, another figure stared back - Dh5,196,000 (US$1.4 million).

Rather than taking the money and running, Mr Mohammed, 55, from Sudan, immediately reported the error, even though his family could do with a windfall. As a token of thanks for his honesty, Mr Mohammed was presented with an extra month's salary and a certificate of appreciation yesterday, at a ceremony presided over by Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid al Nuaimi, the chairman of the civic body. Mr Mohammed, 55, an inspector for the public health department, said he had intended to withdraw Dh2,500.

"At first, I laughed because I couldn't believe it," he said. "I inserted my ATM card again and inquired about the balance. It was Dh5,196,000. I immediately called the office HR and then the bank. "I am a God-fearing person, I want to remain honest and have my family benefiting from only lawful income." The bank froze Mr Mohammed's account for about a day to clear the excess money. It turned out that he had been paid 1,000 times his monthly salary.

Mr Mohammed's honesty in returning the fortune was particularly admirable given that he could not afford to pay university fees for his two sons in Sudan, which meant that they had to drop out of higher education. The money put into his account would have been enough to keep both sons at university for more than 32 years. One had studied at Ajman University of Technology but had to drop out after one year because Mr Mohammed, who has lived in the UAE for 20 years, could not continue paying the tuition.

His second son had been a medical student in Poland but was forced to return to Sudan because of money problems. He transferred to Khartoum's New College of Medical Sciences for a year but dropped out of there for the same reason. A spokesman for the municipality said the pay error was not its fault. "We are very proud to have such honest people like Hashim working with us," the spokesman added. Abdul Razak Saleh, a lawyer in Ajman, said it was wrong for the bank to close Mr Mohammed's account for a day after learning of the mistake.

The proper procedure would have been for the bank to file a lawsuit against the owner of the account and get approval from the Central Bank to close it. "Hashim was entitled to sue the bank and ask for compensation for all this inconvenience, but, being a good person, he chose to take it easy," he said. Arab Union Bank declined to comment.