DUBAI (Reuters) - A British businessman who spent nearly three years in a Dubai jail has been released after his conviction for writing cheques that bounced was overturned earlier this week, family members said on Wednesday.
Safi Qurashi, who went on a hunger strike in May for seven weeks, was accused of bouncing three cheques in property deals in Dubai - a criminal offence in the United Arab Emirates - and given a seven-year jail term after a 2010 trial.
Qurashi’s case and that of American businessman and former chief executive of property firm Deyaar Zack Shahin put Dubai’s practice of jail terms for bouncing cheques under critical scrutiny.
Shahin was granted bail earlier this month after he also went on hunger strike and the U.S. government has repeatedly called for Shahin’s case to be resolved.
Qurashi made headlines when he bought the island of Great Britain on state-owned developer Nakheel’s The World development, an artificial archipelago of Emirati islands that is built in the shape of the world map.
Upon his release on Wednesday, Qurashi was also briefly re-detained over a fraud case filed against him by Nakheel. Nakheel declined to comment on the matter. The British businessman was subsequently released again on bail.
Qurashi, along with four other expatriates jailed in Dubai, went on hunger strike in May to protest against the lengthy prison sentences handed down to them.
“I am now free, but my freedom has come at a huge personal cost,” Safi Qurashi said in a statement. “My incarceration for three years for an alleged crime that I did not commit has placed an untold burden on my wife, my children and my family.”
The UAE has no bankruptcy laws to protect debtors and many have called for the decriminalisation of bounced cheques.
Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Amran Abocar and Patrick Graham