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British woman under 'house arrest' in Italy over unpaid Dubai debt

UAE criticised for using Interpol 'red notices' against debtors despite most of the world not treating defaulting as a crime
A billboard bearing a picture of Dubai's ruler Mohammed bin Rashid outside the Emirates Twin Towers (AFP)

A British woman has been detained in Italy over an outstanding debt of almost $17,000 owed to a Dubai bank.

Italian authorities questioned the woman, who has declined to be identified, last week after being notified of an Interpol 'red notice' by the UAE, which referred to her failure to honour an eight-year-old security cheque.

This case represents yet another example of Interpol abuse

- Radha Stirling, founder and CEO of Detained in Dubai

According to the NGO Detained in Dubai, the woman was held in custody without access to water, food or toilet facilities for one day and was then transferred to a local detention facility in Rome. 

After being granted bail by an Italian court, she was placed under "house arrest" in a hotel which she is paying for out of her own pocket.

Italy now must decide whether to charge her, which could eventually lead to extradition and then potentially imprisonment.

"This case represents yet another example of Interpol abuse," said Radha Stirling, founder and CEO of Detained in Dubai.

"Anyone who has UAE debt could be subject to an Interpol notice."

Interpol "red notices" are put out by the organisation either at its own initiative or following requests from Interpol member states to alert others that an individual's arrest is sought.

Debt, however, is not regarded as a criminal offence in the vast majority of member nations.

Overdue on debt

In 2012, the UAE said it was removing a large number of red notices, primarily those relating to people who owed debt to UAE banks.

But as early as 2013 it was reported that such notices were still being issued by Interpol, who the UAE funded with millions of euros.

Stirling told Middle East Eye that "the number of notices that we deal with has increased".

"Over the past two years, we are dealing with approximately one debt-related case per month and one case that is business related or a civil/private dispute," she said.

MEE contacted Interpol for more detailed information. It did not respond by the time of publication.

While it is rare for debtors to be extradited after red notices for debt owed are issued, the impact on a person's name can be highly damaging.

Reputations tarnished

In 2014 the Guardian reported the case of a British woman who lost her job working as cabin crew for an airline after her US visa was withdrawn when it was discovered she had a red notice against her name.

The woman, who declined to be identified, had previously lived in a Middle Eastern country and taken out a loan to buy a car.

After leaving the country, a cheque she left as security was cashed at short notice and bounced. "I took out a loan and bought a car," she told the Guardian.

"I came back to the UK and wasn't able to make the repayments. Then the [US] Department of Homeland Security contacted my employer and told them they had a staff member on a red notice.

"I didn't know what an Interpol red notice was. It went on for five months, then I was formally dismissed. I kept thinking the police would come and take me."

Apart from the UAE, Interpol has issued red notices on debt offences for Qatar and a number of European countries.

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