Miami woman detained in Dubai for starting her own accountancy business “suffered racism”.
Miami accountant Danielle Jeffries, 58, is the latest American to face the Dubai justice system where she’s been sentenced to jail, a hefty fine and deportation for crimes she didn’t commit.
After a 25 year long career in finance, Danielle wanted some international experience, Dubai looked like a good market and an interesting challenge so in 2015, after much consideration, she packed her bags and headed to the desert city.
The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School undergraduate, had worked with the top names in finance, like Deloitte and KPMG, but welcomed a change from her US lifestyle. She started out working with a local accountancy owned by an Australian woman who arranged her work visa in the Emirates, but Danielle’s goal was to have her own practice once settled in. A couple of years passed and it was time to make her dreams come true.
Danielle gave notice to her employer and hired a Public Relations Officer (PRO) which in the UAE, is not a marketing agent, but a liaison with the public sector. She needed him to apply for her business trading license and an investor visa to switch from her employment status. She was travelling between the UAE and the United States on a frequent basis and so her PRO suggested she provide him with a Power of Attorney (POA), as is common in the UAE.
“Expats need to be aware that they can be held criminally responsible for any mistakes made by a third party holding a POA. This document cannot be taken lightly and has been the cause of innumerable convictions”, said Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, who is representing Ms Jeffries.
Danielle had advised the PRO on exactly what she needed, but told him not to submit any applications to the government until after she left her job. Perhaps over zealously, to expedite his workload or be paid faster, he applied for the trade license prematurely.
Quite quickly, the PRO was notified that Danielle was still on her employment visa and the request was illegal without an “NOC” or No Objection Certificate from her employer.Rather than waiting for Danielle’s employment to terminate, the PRO decided he would forge the document. He just wanted the job done and chances were, it would just slip through.
The PRO and Danielle were hauled down to the police station and their passports confiscated pending an investigation that was initiated by her former employer.
The PRO admitted to police that he processed the application early, without Danielle’s knowledge. “At this point, Danielle’s passport was returned to her and she was told she would be a witness”, Stirling commented, “But then things became convoluted. The PRO changed his story and now accused Danielle of creating the NOC, something she adamantly denies. In fact, Danielle’s former employer acknowledged in an earlier email exchange that the PRO was not only responsible for the forgery. The subsequent civil and criminal cases appear to have been filed in an attempt to prevent Danielle from starting her own company; something Danielle feels may have been racially motivated.”
“I was raised with integrity and come from a family of lawyers and accountants. Forging a document just isn’t something that would ever cross my mind”, added Ms Jeffries.
Radha Stirling continued “The PRO is really the one who needs to be investigated in this matter. There is overwhelming evidence that the Jordanian PRO forged the NOC, but he has gone to great lengths to use Danielle as a scapegoat, continually changing his story hoping to avoid his own prison sentence, but unfortunately for him, he has also been convicted.
“Danielle’s employer, clearly enraged that an NOC was forged, and perhaps upset that Danielle would become a competitor, opened a duplicate police allegation at a different police station but this time, only accusing Danielle, not mentioning the PRO at all”. She was aware that the PRO had initially confessed to manufacturing the NOC, but stated in a letter that Danielle should be held fully accountable regardless and has tried to oppose Danielle’s trade license.
The second case was not pursued when the police realised it was a duplicate. “This is something that people have gotten away with in the past, so it’s good to see police cross referencing to ensure cases are not duplicated” adds Radha Stirling.
The employer then sued Ms Jeffries in the civil courts, alleging damages as a result of the NOC. The employer lost the civil lawsuit against Danielle. She further tried to withhold the final salary payment of around $10,000, but was court ordered to pay this too.
Without evidence of wrongdoing, Danielle Jeffries has been sentenced to a fine of AED 150,000 (apx. US $40,000), three months imprisonment and deportation. She cannot pay the $40,000 fine and will therefore be stuck in Dubai indefinitely, without a work permit and without a business license.
Detained in Dubai’s founder, Radha Stirling responded to the conviction, “Despite clear evidence of Ms Jeffries’ innocence, Dubai police allowed the PRO to change his witness testimony and subsequently prosecuted both parties on behalf of their Australian accuser. Danielle has been caught up in the shambles of a legal system, thrown from pillar to post while trying to defend herself from these charges. She has tried everything to have her voice heard by authorities, even having contacted as a last resort, the Minister of Happiness, who couldn’t understand how this had happened, expressed empathy but did nothing to help.
“She spent 30 days without electricity and water, utilities she couldn’t connect in her flat while her passport was with police. She’s been battling depression, physical and psychological distress and is beside herself with worry over her 93 year old mother back in the States who she can’t visit as she used to.
“The fact is, she can not pay the $40,000 fine so even if she’s arrested today and thrown in prison for three months, she still won’t be able to go home to the States. She’ll be stuck in the country indefinitely. It’s absolutely abominable that Dubai would treat investors like this. How will the city attract entrepreneurs when they can be prosecuted and jailed without evidence, then detained in the city indefinitely, with no permission to work to raise the money for their unfair fines?
“Danielle Jeffries is a black woman in a Middle Eastern legal system and this in itself, will influence her access to a fair trial. The accuser, in criminal cases in Dubai, is almost always favoured and believed. Evidence is not required and a mere accusation is sufficient to achieve a conviction. Add to that the fact that she is a woman, and then that she is a black woman, and she is further disadvantaged in the judicial system. Racism and sexism are prevalent throughout the United Arab Emirates, to the point where a female rape victim will be charged with sex outside marriage, or where an Asian or African may be sentenced to death while a white Brit charged with murder, will be released in just a few years.
“Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who is supporting Danielle, approached the UAE’s Ambassador to the US, His Excellency Mr Yousef Al Otaiba, but his advice was simply to pay the fine.
“We are writing to the US State Department to recommend they review and increase warnings to American citizens, and business and investment groups also need to be advised. The UAE has got away lightly with actions against US citizens. We have seen the UAE government attack a US registered yacht in international waters under false pretences, with no apparent consequence, and now we are seeing the systematic abuse of American tourists, expats and entrepreneurs in the UAE. David Oliver, was detained in Dubai over a bank debt and only through diplomatic intervention, was he returned home. Melissa McBurnie was arrested recently after being sexually harassed by an Egyptian man, only released following international outrage, and now we have Danielle, who is facing jail over a document she had nothing to do with.
These are innocent Americans, who have committed no crimes but are being abused by a system in complete disarray. It’s time the US said enough is enough”.