'Great Britain' owner sees jail appeal squashed

'Great Britain' owner sees jail appeal squashed


A millionaire property developer who was jailed for bouncing £50 million worth of bad cheques has found his appeal for wrongful imprisonment squashed and must serve his full seven-year jail term.

Safi Qurashi was jailed in 2010 after being found guilty of bouncing cheques by a Dubai Court.

However, a judge in Dubai’s Court of First Instance this week upheld the sentence, after hearing evidence from court-appointed experts that suggested the security cheques should not have been cashed as Qurashi had made the relevant payments.

Previous appeals at Dubai’s Court of Cassation and Court of Appeal were also quashed, reported the Arabian Business news site.

“Despite the court appointed expert stating clearly that Safi has paid the value of the cheques the judge… has given a verdict that the sentence must continue,” a family member told the site.

Three years ago Safi Qurashi was featured in Britain’s Got Talent judge Piers Morgan’s ITV programme on how Britons were cashing in on the Dubai property boom and becoming overnight millionaires.

Qurashi, from Balham, South London, rose to fame for being the owner of the £43 million 4.5-hectare island in the shape of Great Britain that is part of The World, a man-made archipelago of 300 reclaimed sandbanks in the Gulf, fashioned into the shape of the globe's land masses, the Daily Telegraph reported earlier this year.

He had initially planned to build a mix of hotels, residential and commercial buildings on Great Britain, but the scheme stalled in the wake of the global financial crisis.

Sadiq Khan MP, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, met the Foreign Office in March this year to push for further assistance from the UK Government in trying to secure Qurashi’s release. Qurashi also appealed to David Cameron last year to intervene, claiming he had been wrongly convicted after hearings lasting just a minute each, reported the Telegraph.

A former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, Tarique Ghaffur, had called for a fresh investigation claiming the millionaire was ‘reckless’ but not criminal. In a 115-page case review written by Ghaffur, he stated: "They have stood little chance of proving their innocence particularly as the investigations and trials appeared so one-sided and biased … They have been the victim of circumstances brought on by the property recession, the actions of criminals and gross negligence by court officials," he said.

Dubai's absence of banking laws meant much reliance was put on investments being secured on cheques whether issued as a security cheque or as a post-dated cheque, the report claims. A number of Britons have been caught out in Dubai by laws that hand down jail sentences for cheque fraud, which have been strictly enforced in the midst of collapsing house prices, negative equity and reduced credit.

In a letter, handed to the Sunday Telegraph by his family, Qurashi says he was mistreated by the Dubai police, who, he claims, handcuffed him to a chair for eight hours, denied him access to lawyers, and that he was convicted without any chance to put his side of the story. He also claims the Foreign Office has refused to help.

Another letter given to the Guardian newspaper last year claimed Qurashi’s wife had suffered a miscarriage and his mother a heart attack while he has been in jail. He has had to close his property firm, Premier Real Estate Bureau. His daughter, Sara, had set up a website, Justice For My Dad, as part of the campaign to free him and appealed for help to meet Dubai's ruler.

According to the site, Qurashi had acted as a “middle-man” in a number of deals that saw clients transfer money into his company in exchange for his purchasing land on their behalf.

In exchange for the money, Qurashi signed security cheques over to the client that should have been returned on completion of the land deal, the website claims. Instead, the cheques were cashed, leading to Qurashi’s arrest and imprisonment for cheque fraud.

The London-born developer was later found guilty of signing two cheques with insufficient funds and cancelling another.

Dubai law firm Bin Haider Advocates, which represents Qurashi, said they plan to follow up the verdict with the chief prosecutor.

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