The small northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah is aggressively soliciting foreign investment, but eager Israeli investors should be wary. The government of RAK, under Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qassimi has been waging a relentless campaign against everyone who put the tiny emirate on the investment map. At a time when Israeli business people are exploring opportunities opened in the UAE by the Abraham Accords, RAK’s growing brushfire of litigation internationally is sending a strong signal that they do not want foreign business.
Khater Massaad, the one-time “Golden Boy of the Northern Emirates”, the architect of Ras Al Khaimah’s Free Trade Zone and Investment Authority, has been pursued for years by Sheikh Saud in a paranoid campaign of lawsuits and disinformation. Claiming that Massaad, who secured billions of dollars in investment for the backwater emirate of RAK, had embezzled funds and mismanaged the Investment Authority, all because Saud suspected Massaad of sympathising with Saud’s brother, Sheikh Khalid, who was challenging him for the throne.
RAK brought cases against Massaad in Saudi Arabia after he left the UAE, only to later admit in court that they had no evidence against him. The cases were dismissed, but Saud launched them again in his own courts in RAK where he could control the outcome. As a result, Khater Massaad’s assets have been frozen, and his current investment projects in Bangladesh have been halted as courts in Dhaka adjudicate the claims.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, commented, “Khater Massaad’s projects in Bangladesh have no connection whatsoever with Ras Al Khaimah, it is outrageous that Sheikh Saud is allowed to continue interfering with businesses around the world simply because an investor once worked for him. His claims have already been thrown out by an impartial court, and the judgment of RAK courts, which Saud directly controls, cannot be taken seriously. We have seen thoroughly corrupt decisions by Sheikh Saud’s judges time and time again, particularly against the executive staff of the Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone Authority (RAKFTZA) and the Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA), stemming from his political purge of those bodies during his effort to consolidate power after seizing the throne. Israeli investors would be wise to steer clear of RAK unless and until Abu Dhabi reins in Sheikh Saud; it is simply too unsafe and unstable”
The volatility of Sheikh Saud’s regime stems partially from the ongoing conflict between the ruler and his brother Sheikh Khalid over who was the rightful heir to the throne. “Israelis need to be aware that Saud suspects Israel sided with Khalid in this dispute, since the then Israeli Ambassador in London reportedly met Sheikh Khalid back in 2010 to discuss supporting his bid for the crown,” Stirling said, “Given the spitefulness of the regime, Israeli investors might well be targeted.”
Saud’s heavy-handed tactics have led to multiple lawsuits against him in the United States and Great Britain, where his regime is accused of torture, unlawful detention, and severe human rights violations. “Former employees of RAKIA and RAKFTZA are either in prison or under arrest warrants, their families have been threatened, they have been beaten, intimidated, and forced to make false confessions and testimony to wrongfully incriminate their superiors, essentially to cover up the misappropriation of funds and poor investment decisions by Sheikh Saud himself, and his son” Stirling explained. “The corruption has spun a web from New York to Tbilisi, from Washington D.C. to India, and now to Bangladesh. "Major international law firms like Dechert have found themselves implicated in grave abuses; there have been allegations of hacking, espionage, and questionable political lobbying and bribery. The UAE is already a treacherous climate for foreign investors, particularly from Israel, but RAK is off the charts .”
American law firm Dechert is currently embroiled in litigation in the High Court of England over the involvement of three former employees, Neil Gerrard, David Hughes and Caroline Black, in the interrogations of Karam Al Sadeq and Jihad Kuzmar on behalf of Sheikh Saud in which both men were allegedly tortured. The two men claim that they were threatened with life imprisonment if they did not corroborate false accusations against Khater Massaad and Sheikh Faisal, Saud’s other brother who was RAK’s former de facto finance minister. Both Al Sadeq and Kuzmar remain in RAK detention.
“Israeli investors need to know that RAK is not a safe destination for their capital,” Stirling cautioned, “We have cases that have nothing to do with Sheikh Saud’s political persecution of his business rivals. For example, Reda Boulahdid, a private businessman who was preyed upon by corrupt Customs officials who demanded a percentage of his revenues. His wife was abducted by authorities, his home ransacked, his property confiscated, and ultimately, his company destroyed because he refused to capitulate. From the top-down, RAK is rife with corruption and foreign investment is treated like a donation. Everything the UAE is trying to do to promote itself as a business-friendly hub for foreign capital is being sabotaged by the out-of-control behaviour of Ras Al Khaimah. The only way this gets resolved is for Abu Dhabi to step in and make Sheikh Saud get with the program; otherwise his renegade emirate will eventually destroy the UAE brand globally.”
Radha Stirling founded Detained in Dubai in 2008 and has since helped and advised more than 15,000 foreign nationals facing trouble in the UAE. Stirling is an expert witness, civil and criminal justice specialist, legislative, investment risk, business and policy advisor to the public and private sectors, speaker and host of the Gulf in Justice Podcast, covering the region in depth.