Article on Advice Police Investigations
What to Do if Investigated by the Police?
While life in the UAE seems on the surface very similar for expats to life in a European country, the UAE’s traditions and legal system are in many aspects quite different from those of our home countries. From many years of experience as legal consultants in the UAE and officially appointed lawyers (Vertrauensanwälte) of the Austrian and Swiss embassies in Abu Dhabi, the authors have frequently been involved in cases of expats in the UAE who found themselves suddenly in conflict with the law and were surprised by the authorities´ investigation procedures and the threatened punishment.
Below, the authors compiled a list and brief overview of the most frequent legal matters which led to police investigations, prosecution and court procedures against expats in the UAE.
Alcohol : Driving under the influence of alcohol and drinking outside of hotels without liquor license is prohibited in the UAE. If the authorities are made aware or come across any such incident (e.g. in accidents without your fault) criminal procedures will be commenced in this regard.
Drugs : The UAE enforces a strict zero-tolerance approach regarding drugs, even for the possession of minimal amounts of certain drugs which would not be prosecuted in most European countries. Drug offenses are punishable by a minimum of 4 years of prison.
Imports into the UAE : Criminal prosecution against tourists and expats were commenced because of the import of some medical drugs which are freely available in pharmacies in Europe, of empty cartridges, bobby pistols and nude pictures in magazines.
Cybercrimes : Any criminal activities carried out by means of electronic channels, including insults, recording (e.g. telephone calls or meetings) and any violation of privacy (e.g. sharing accident picture on social media or taking pictures of people without their permission), organising private charities and fundraising on Facebook or via other social media platforms are prosecuted. If found guilty of any of these crimes, punishments are severe with at least AED 250,000 in fines or imprisonment of several years and obligatory deportation for expats.
Public Morals : As is also often reported in the news, rude gestures (e.g. in traffic), obscene acts or public display of affection, sexual intercourse out of wedlock, pregnancy of an unmarried mother- to-be (e.g. when visiting a doctor due to pregnancy) and homosexual acts are prosecuted by the UAE authorities.
Filing Police Complaints : In certain cases, filing a complaint at the police could have legal consequences if it reveals the complainant´s own illegal behaviour. Examples of such incidences include reporting “date rape”. If the rape happened under special circumstances (e.g. under the influence of alcohol or in connection with a nightclub visit) and the complainant cannot prove the accusation, this could lead to the conclusion by the court that the victim gave the offender the “green light” (as per Abu Dhabi Court of Cassation case no. 375/2001), and both the complainant and the alleged rapist could then be accused of extramarital sexual intercourse. Likewise, when reporting a theft by a nanny working as a freelancer without sponsored residence visa, investigations against the complainant could be initiated because the nanny was employed illegally. Similarly, quarrels during house parties could lead to police complaints and subsequent investigations if the police become aware of unmarried couples sharing an apartment or people owning or drinking alcohol without liquor license.
Forbidden Photography: It is forbidden to take photographs in prohibited areas such as in embassy quarters, at airports or military and oil installations. N.b. such infractions are treated as state security crimes and might thus be dealt with at the Federal Supreme Court acting as the country´s “state security court” in one single instance, so without right of appeal.
Director´s liability: Directors face an array of potential civil and criminal liabilities. Despite some amendments and relaxations in particular for lower value cheques, criminal prosecution for bounced company cheques is probably still the most common case of criminal cases against directors and managers. Also, acting as Health & Safety Manager during an accident on a construction site might lead to personal criminal prosecution. Unsettled company debts could and do lead to imprisonment of the manager under UAE law, as being the responsible person (Article 327 of the UAE Code of Civil Procedure).
Being convicted of one of the above crimes might lead to imprisonment or high penalties and potentially deportation. However, when a person is accused, first he faces interrogations at the police and prosecution. The authors have put together legal recommendations below on how to act if a complaint is filed against you.
Criminal Proceedings: What to do
Criminal investigations and court procedures cause enormous stress and emotional and financial burden for the accused. In the UAE, passports are often confiscated as a guarantee during these procedures, and people are prevented from leaving the country until the case is either closed by the prosecution or finally decided by the courts. Criminal proceedings can take a long time to be resolved and the fees of the local defence lawyers are generally significant (not below AED 25,000, but raising to more than AED 100,000 for serious offenses). Thus, it is important to improve the chances of a successful defence already at the outset of the case at the police.
The first step after being reported to the police by a complainant is usually the interrogation by a police officer or a member of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) for more serious crimes.
The following should be noted at the first interrogation:
- If the accused was not caught in the act, he is usually summoned to attend at the police station the following day. Talk to a lawyer before you go to the police for a summons. Your lawyer can give you important advice under your specific circumstances. Note in this context that being accompanied by a lawyer to the initial interrogation is rarely approved,
- Inform your embassy before going to the police.
- Talk to the police officer with respect, even if the criminal complaint seems abusive, baseless and unfounded.
- Ask for an interpreter if you have problems communicating with the officer (usually, for Western expats this is provided in any case, either in person or lately more often through a video- conferencing system).
- If you are supposed to be taken into custody, request immediate release on bail in exchange for money or passport, possibly even against the deposit of a guarantor's passport instead of your own (n.b. this is not always approved; passports of minors are not permitted). In this way you can arrange your defence more effectively.
After the interrogation an Arabic summary of the statement must be signed. The accused should insist on having his statement translated orally back to him. A refusal to sign the statement is not recommended and has no benefit as the interrogating officer could always be summoned by the judge in any later court proceedings to confirm his report of the questioning. Fingerprints will be taken, and a criminal record will be created for the case. Anyone accused should request the number of the criminal file if it is not anyway communicated to them. This is necessary to obtain access to the case file by the court lawyer as quickly as possible once the investigations are finalised.
If the prosecutor does not approve bail and orders a remand (Untersuchungshaft), the accused should tell the prison administration that he wishes to appoint a lawyer. Issuing a power of attorney to a court lawyer once in custody is not easy and is time-consuming because the notary visits the prison usually only once a week for the attestation of powers of attorney. It is therefore advisable to pre-authorise a trusted person in case of emergencies, e.g. to give a power of attorney to a family member or to a friend. Such power of attorney should provide for the right to appoint a court lawyer in place of the person concerned.
If the case is forwarded by the prosecutor to the criminal court for trial, it is advisable to hire a court lawyer as otherwise a proper defence cannot be guaranteed, especially because the court hearings are in Arabic and the defence statement must be submitted in Arabic, as well. The court interpreter merely interprets the judge's questions to the defendant and does not otherwise translate what is said or submitted during the proceedings.
If you have any questions or require any advice or legal assistance regarding the above, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Clemens Daburon (email@example.com) or Ms Sali Jumah (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Daburon & Partners Legal Consultants LLP
Phone: +971 2 6948655
Address: Office 2404, 24th Floor Al Sila Tower–Abu Dhabi Global Market Square–Abu Dhabi–UAE
This article is provided on a complimentary basis as general information. It does not constitute legal advice, and no legal responsibility or liability whatsoever can be assumed.