Dubai is no place for entrepreneurs who want to invest their knowledge and money. Here’s why


Let me first start by saying that since September of 2014 my passport has been taken from me by the Dubai police upon the order of the public prosecutor’s office and on June 19th, 2015 I have been given a deportation order by the courts which means I first have to turn myself to the police, stay a few days in jail, and if nothing happens in between, then be escorted to the airport and sent off to a destination of origin, in my case, Canada like a criminal.

bbm-in-forbes-middle-east
Featured in FORBES Middle East in 2013 – eZeLiving.com has crossed over 3 million viewers

So now you probably want to know why?

Well, here is the back-story.

In 2013 a man by the name of Tarek Ghannem, formerly the managing director of a marketing company called Madison Advertising  now heading a single man advertising agency called Brainstorm came to my office and befriended me.  Little did I know that over the course of 3 months while passing himself off as our re-seller (agent),   he was in fact taking our creative ideas and putting it under his own company name.  The details of how he did it and why is all written up in a separate article that I published on my page back in January of 2014.

After finding out in December of 2013 that Mr. Ghanem had taken many of our ideas, one in particular a show we were about to launch called “in the boardroom” I confronted him via SMS in a 2 to 3 minute conversation (string of messages) where I expressed my intentions of using the power of the LAW to bring him to justice.

With the evidence we had from him it was clear that what took place was intellectual property theft and a breach of agreement based on the emails we had exchanged (all copies are posted online).

What happened thereafter will blow your mind.

Knowing that he had committed a crime and that he would have to pay damages, Mr. Ghannem and his lawyer preempted my legal complaint by filing a case against me on a technicality because I used the word “thief” in an SMS communication to express my disappointment in his action (the taking of someone else’s belonging without their knowledge or consent).  It seems to be the case that whoever files a complaint “first” in the UAE is considered the innocent party, which couldn’t be furthest from the truth.

eZeLiving billboard
Announcing our launch in 2012

In his complaint he stated that I had threatened him which is false.  He had also complained that I had stated in my SMS that I would go after him “American style” and that I would “see him sink” (sink was translated to drowning).  These are manipulation of the “entirety of the conversation” deliberately taken out of context, plus, anyone who knows American business culture and or who would have read my entire SMS communication with him would know that American style of doing business is nothing more than filing a legal case to “SUE” for damages where he would end up spending a lot of money paying legal fees and compensation.  Going bankrupt in legal fees is what SINK meant in this context.

Mr. Tarek Ghanem also knew that I had been featured in FORBES and in The National and was fully aware that my innovation (in marketing and communication) was of value as we had reached over 2 million views on our Youtube Channel and we were cashflow positive, which is why, I asked the courts to look at both of our track records.  The problem was and still is that the legal system in Dubai doesn’t know the first thing about “Digital Forensics” and “Digital Footprint Tracking”.  There is no real due process of law either but I will get into that in a later blog post.

While the evidence would show that I was being credited for my work, he had no record of accomplishment in this area (digital media and content creation) prior to meeting me and my team.  And as a matter of fact he launched his online presence by being on MY SHOW and we have proof of that too.   All of his video content on Youtube will show dates that are after his interaction with us.  But he hid those dates, but we found them.    Here is one example. 

Now here is where it gets interesting.

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Our team of young entrepreneurs at BBM

In January of 2014 I get a call from the Bur Dubai police station.  I immediately went in without hesitation.  Upon arrival I was told that I have a complaint against me by a Mr. Tarek Ghannem.  I explain the situation to the police officer and instead of taking down my statement (which was complex because it involved digital media and the internet) the officer told me to go and write up an Arabic statement and bring it back.  I told him it would take a few days as I first would have to write my statement in English and then have it translated into Arabic and he was fine with it.  A week later when I translated my statement (by an official translator) and went back to the Police station I was told by two other officers who shared a room with him that the officer in charge had gone on vacation and that I should come back when he returns.

Thinking to myself that the officer would call once he is back from holiday I refocused my attention, like any western trained entrepreneur would, back on growing our startup company with great enthusiasm. But no one followed up until September of 2014 (8 months after).  In September I get a call from the same police officer telling me that I should urgently come in as I am now banned from leaving the country.

I immediately went to the Police Station with the translation of my statement in hand.  When I arrived my Canadian passport (which was about to be expired) was taken from me.  I asked him why it was necessary to take my passport and he informed me that it was ordered by the chief public prosecutor’s office.   When I tried to explain that this was not necessary I was again told that this is the ruling.

Featured in FORBES Middle East 2013
Featured in FORBES Middle East 2013

And so on September 2014 my passport was taken without just cause  despite not having done anything wrong.

I handed my translation statement to the police officer so he could enter it into my records only later to find out that it was never added into my file (most likely because it had a date on it from January 2014 and that no one from the police station took it from me back when they should have).

In a state of urgency and distress I hired an Egyptian lawyer  by the name of Haitham Al Patchi from Heba Advocates who passed himself off as one of the top lawyers in the country (big mistake on my part).  I later found out that all he cared for was running up a tab on me.   He ended up billing me over 100,000 dirhams where he had originally agreed on a fee of 25,000 dirhams for hardly doing anything.  But that’s an entirely different issue all together that I won’t get into at this point.  I will however say that after getting the deportation ruling he threatened me that if I complained against him he will file a case for 1,000,000 dirhams against me.  Sounds pretty fishy right?   O and i have to add that in 2016 when I checked up on him I found out that his law practice had closed shop and their website was no longer active.

Anyways a few weeks later when we went back to the police station this time with a lawyer who spoke Arabic to explain that if anyone should be complaining it should be me, I was notified that under the “cyber-crime” law I was being charged for threatening Mr. Tarek Ghannem and that I was now considered, get this, a NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT to the country.  I was overwhelmed because based on the evidence we had we were in the right and while everything was made available to the courts, no one seemed to care at the totality of the situation.  I found this to be very disturbing and unethical.

So, the next step was to sit before the public prosecutor (which took another few months), and I did, but despite all efforts in trying and explain to him that I was being victimized and that the real criminal was walking the streets of Dubai a free man, the public prosecutor ended up giving me 3 options.

  1. To pay Mr. Ghanem 50,000aed (which later went up to 120,000aed after Mr. Ghannem found out that a deportation order was given to me) so he would drop the case, and there was no way in hell I would do that. To pay him would be like paying someone money after they broke into your house and walked off with the family jewels.    Where is the logic in that???
  2. Pay up to 250,000 dirhams in fines along with a jail time.  Or
  3. Be deported

    The National - shahriar shahabi
    Featured in the National

I made it clear that since my rights have been taken from me and that the TRUTH was on my side I would never agree to (1) and will defend my rights till justice is served in court.  To this day I am puzzled as to why the courts have chosen NOT to see the entire picture and instead have made a ruling based on one “small” piece of the communication that was taken out of context.  I have my thoughts on this but I will leave that for another follow up article once I am safely out of the country.

And so when our court date arrived a few weeks after my meeting with the public prosecutor, the first instance court judge heard our defense and fined me 2000 Dirhams, however, on the day we went to make payment (June 3rd, 2015), the court administrator told us that the public prosecutor (on behalf of the Dubai government) has made an appeal on the court’s decision and that we would now have to go to a second court hearing.

By this time we had paid over 120,000aed in legal fees, 2000aed in court fees, and more importantly, a year of my life had passed in a state of constant stress, anxiety and complete standstill not to mention my ability to travel was also blocked where I needed to move in order to raise funds for our digital media and marketing company.   Despite putting on a calm and collected face at home and at work there was no way I could focus my much needed attention on our digital media company BBM, and on www.eZeLiving.com, a lifestyle platform that I had projected to be worth a million dollars given our business model and number one position in the market.

A few months later the second court hearing was set and while my lawyer had notified me that it was not necessary for me to be present in court, for reasons again I think I  know but will say once I am out of the country, we got the verdict, DEPORTATION by Judge Adnan Al Farra.

I was shocked in disbelief and so was my wife who is a very well respected high-school teach in one of Dubai’s top international schools and has been for the past 10 years.

eZeLiving BB1 (1)
72 foot billboard and a proud moment

After everything I had gone through, the drama, the stress, and the anxiety the court’s decision was to rule against me while letting the real criminal go FREE.  I thought to myself, what message is Dubai sending to entrepreneurs who are honest, creative, and hardworking?  The message was clear … DUBAI IS NO PLACE FOR YOU BECAUSE THE LAW WILL NOT PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS.

I made an appointment to see staff at the Canadian consulate in Dubai to tell them about my case and after a 5 minute discussion I was told by our embassy that, “we can’t help you because we don’t get involved in the internal affairs of a host country other than to make sure you are well treated”.  So much for our diplomatic team who turned out to be useless despite the human rights violations that have been committed.

I went back to the office got on the phone and immediately FIRED the Egyptian lawyer and his team for their incompetence and hired a new Emirati lawyer.  We put in a new plea to the Supreme Court (taameez) but once again the lawyers had no clue what Cyber Crime is and how to defend it.    The decision came back and it was rejected.  The only thing the lawyer, who was a retired police officer could tell me was “sorry, I am learning”.     By this time my creative energy was gone and my family in a state of anxiety and not to mention my passport still withheld by the public prosecutor after TWO AND A HALF YEARS.

Can you believe it … For OVER THREE YEARS they have now blocked my mobility to travel and do business so I could earn a living.  By 2016 the ordeal had brought my internet business to a complete standstill.  The Dubai legal system had bankrupted me, and this brings us to today.

Now everything is with the rulers court and an appeals committee that we have been waiting for a decision since March of 2016.  Things don’t look good and the question is will they let me leave without a fuss?

eZeLiving BB1 (2)
72 foot billboard outside of Dubai Media City in 2012

I share my experience with all entrepreneurs out there to let you know that Dubai is NO PLACE for creative people to invest in and launch startups because the justice system does not protect people like us who want to create new ideas, create employment opportunities and change the world for the better.  The headache and heartache is just not worth it.

And so it is needless to say that upon returning to Canada, I will file a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Dubai, as I seek damages for everything they have put me and my family through over the past three years, and more importantly, for destroying my business that is now lost, and as per our business plan, for the multi-million dollar market opportunity that was taken away from me.

As I wait for a decision from the Rulers Office through a new laywer (Mrs Samira Gargash) my only priority is to have my name cleared in the courts and to prove that I was right all along.    After that I will seek council with friends and family back home in Canada to take the next course of action as my family’s safety is the most important thing to me.

What is really sad and what Dubai doesn’t understand is that in the US and in Silicon Valley I would have been highly regarded for my skills and risk taking ability, and, society would have benefited from my contribution and job creation potential. But instead, here, they have treated me as a criminal which is why I arrive to the conclusion that this city is no place for entrepreneurs with a global vision.

“the Arc of moral universe is long but it always bends towards justice”
Martin Luther King Jr.

UPDATE …. the superior court “taameez” has upheld the second courts decision in that I have committed a crime worthy of being labeled as a national threat despite the overwhelming evidence in my favor.   Now we file a case to the Public Prosecutors office and write a letter to the Dewan (the rulers office).   JUSTICE must be done based on facts not POOR TRANSLATION of them.

UPDATE –  for 11 months Ibrahim El Banna kept telling us he would help but did NOTHING.  Then asked us to give him power of attorney and once we his fee shot up to 140,000aed.   So much for honest lawyers in Dubai.

UPDATE – met with another person who was introduced to us by yet another Egyptian.  A Polish woman representing another emirati law firm.  Her advise was to write a bounded check so I could stay in the country while the issue is being resolved.    I told her that her advise is terrible and unethical.   These are the type of people are running the legal system in Dubai.  Once you fall into the spiders web there is NO getting out.

January 23rd 2017 …. an observation on Tarek.   If Madison and In the Boardroom was his idea, why did he have to leave and start a new company and NEVER use In the Boardroom after this case?   Why did the first lawyer disappear from his law firm?  Why did the Chief public prosecutor not accept the first instance court ruling?   Why has this case been filled with neglect and mishandling from day one?

February 10th 2017 – had a meeting with Madam Samira Gargash who is a well respected lawyer.  She said she would help us resolve this issue and that this case has been badly handled from the start.  Two weeks has passed and now February 25th and I am still waiting for a response.

April 2nd 2017 – Samira Gargash has said she can not help us.    Even the BEST lawyers have no clue what digital / cyber forensics is and yet the make judgement on these issues.

June 19th 2017 – After 9 final days of hell I have left Dubai forever and will soon tell the world about my story.  Dubai is NO PLACE FOR INVESTMENT, unless you are laundering money.

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