A former member of Etihad Airways cabin crew who recently lost his job in a wave of redundancies because of the COVID-19 pandemic says he faces being sent to jail because he can no longer afford the repayments on a $100,000 loan used to invest in Bitcoin at the height of the cryptocurrency craze. The 34-year-old French national says he is expected to pay back $2,230 every month until the end of 2021 to clear the 338,000 Dirham loan.
Unlike many countries, failing to repay a debt is a criminal offence in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where debtors could be sent to jail for up to three years. The British charity, Detained in Dubai (which helps in criminal cases across the UAE) say they have witnessed an uptick in what they describe as “aggressive” tactics from banks which include criminal enforcement.
In the past, expat residents had fled to their home country to renegotiate debt in relative safety but Radha Stirling, the chief executive of Detained in Dubai says there’s been an “upswing in the amount of Interpol threats” for expat debtors who return home to avoid unpaid loans.
“Using Interpol to detain and extradite debtors to the UAE people is not legal, but the UAE banks know that most victims don’t know how to fight the Red Notice or avoid it altogether,” she says. “In fact, the first many former expats learn about Red Notices is when they are detained at an airport.”
For the unnamed Etihad flight attendant, the story began in late 2017 when he took out the huge loan with Emirates Islamic Bank to make his first-ever investment in Bitcoin. At the time, the cryptocurrency was at an all-time high but within less than a year, he claims he had lost 85 per cent on his initial investment.
Both he had and his wife have lost their jobs with Etihad Airways and she can’t afford to repay an unrelated debt.
Last year, it emerged that potentially hundreds of Emirates cabin crew had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in a Ponzi-style investment scam. Investors were promised returns of between 5 and 20 per cent when they opened an account with a deposit of at least $10,000 – some victims invested over $100,000 in the scam but lost everything.
Etihad Airways has axed hundreds of cabin crew as it navigates the Corona crisis. Many of the redundant cabin crew were given little notice of what was about to happen.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.