Three South African businesspeople jailed in Dubai after being scammed by an international fraudster thought their nightmare was over when they were released after serving three-year prison terms. But the trio still cannot go home.
Because it views them as unrehabilitated debtors, Dubai’s Ajman Court will not release their passports and has slapped a travel ban on them.
Sello Tsolo, Tjoko Khambule and Jannie van der Walt spent more than three years in jail after refusing to pay “debts” to Indian national Amit Lamba, who posed as an investor.
The Times of India reported in July last year that Lamba had been arrested as part of a syndicate that lured Indian businesspeople to open businesses in Dubai and then confiscated their passports and blackmailed them.
The South Africans have launched a sit-in at the South African embassy in Abu Dhabi, accusing it of dragging its heels over their case.
In a statement released this week they said: “We have served time in prison and lost everything in the process … we now demand that the government, through the embassy, urgently intervene on our behalf and secure our freedom.”
They added that prison has taken a toll on their health and they need medical attention.
The three also said they have nowhere to live, as well-wishers who previously accommodated them could no longer do so.
Department of international relations spokesperson Clayson Monyela said the embassy has provided consular assistance to the men and will continue to do so.
“The predicament of the three South Africans was communicated to the UAE ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation with an urgent request to personally meet with the relevant authorities in order to get their passports released so that they can return to South Africa,” said Monyela.
He said the embassy is waiting for the UAE to set a date for the meeting.
AmaBhungane first reported on the trio’s ordeal in 2014, when they were convicted in Dubai of being in Lamba’s debt and jailed.
Two years earlier they had been introduced to him through an investment agency falling under the Limpopo government, Limpopo Investment and Trade.
He received a further endorsement from the South African government when he was vetted by the department of trade and industry before his arrival in South Africa.
The department later cautioned local businesspeople against doing business with him.
While in South Africa he promised that he would invest in the businesspeople’s agricultural projects.
He allegedly lured them to Dubai where he made them sign documents in Arabic he claimed were shareholder agreements, but which turned out to be acknowledgements of debt.
The three were arrested in 2013 and then told that they would not be released until they paid R1.3-million each.
Van der Walt was released in 2015 after serving his jail term, while Khambule and Tsolo were released last year.