Dubai: Days after XPRESS reported how several UAE firms were conned by the bogus Spear International LLC, another trading scam has hit the country.
Only this time the stakes are much higher and the list of victims longer – around Dh15 million and nearly 50 businessmen at last count.
In a mirror image of the modus operandi used by Spear International, two other Dubai firms -- Ronnington Technical Services and Steelite Electrical and Mechanical Engineering -- shut shop last week after duping scores of traders and leaving a trail of wrecked lives and dud cheques.
In most cases, the first few dealings were in cash.
Their trust gained, the conmen then placed bigger orders against post dated cheques which turned out to be duds. Goods bought against them were later sold at throwaway prices.
Victims suspect it’s the handiwork of the same gang as the scammers in all three cases were Indians and fled the UAE around the Eid break.
An Indian trader who supplied cables worth Dh2.5 million and Dh1.5 million to Ronnington and Steelite reckons both firms are connected. “There can be no other way. It seems they had been planning it for months,’’ he said.
Agreed travel consultant Syed Muzammil from Hyderabad, India, who arranged their flights, hotels, limousine tours and tourist visas. “It’s too much of a coincidence that both firms decided to flee around the same time. My total loss exceeds Dh1,60,000. I have cancelled nine tourist visas but some visitors arrived in the UAE. I don’t know what they might be up to and how we could recover our losses,” he wondered.
Outside Ronnington’s abandoned Al Quoz 3 office, many other victims mulled over their fate.
Among them were B.V. who supplied steel plates worth Dh345,000, K.A. (steel bars and wires: Dh382,875) M.S. (laptops, PABX system, carbon pipes and electronic cables: Dh308,456) Y.R. (sanitary fittings: Dh 306,494) M.K. (steel plates and galvanised coils: Dh240,913; F.H (building material: Dh200,000), J.V (air conditioning equipment: Dh274,000) and G.V. (scaffolding Dh1,95,000).
“The list gets longer with each passing day. Already, nearly 60 dud cheques have been reported by traders from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah,” said Pakistani businessman Mir Jawad Hussain, 48, whose firm Al Yousuf Computer and Telecommunication sold 300 telephone handsets worth Dh60,000.
The scene at Steelite’s Al Ghusais office was no different with several traders thronging the place last Thursday. “I am ruined. All my years of hard-earned money have gone in a blink,” rued A.K. who lost electronic equipment worth Dh1,50,000.
Between them Ronnington and Steelite had around 50 people on their roll from various nationalities. The cellphone numbers of all their staff including drivers and store-keepers are switched off.
“It’s hard to believe that everyone from the owners to the peons were part of the grand swindle, but that’s what it looks like,” said a trader, who, like many others, have filed a police complaint.
Yet, more than magnitude of the scam, it’s the sheer audacity of the conmen that has left victims stunned.
“I delivered 660 tonnes of industrial chemical worth Dh1.2 million to their warehouse. That’s not something you could sell off easily, but they did,” said the salesman of an Abu Dhabi-based firm. “My company has not taken to the loss lightly and I fear they might fire me,” he added.
All dud cheques issued by Ronnington and Steelite bear the signatures of their owners Mazhar Ali Khan and Pradeep Kumar Tharwani.
However, efforts to trace the suspects at addresses in their passports have drawn a blank.
One team sent by traders to trace Khan in Bangalore couldn’t find the address, while another despatched to Jaipur found a Pradeep Tharwani, who is a bonafide resident and has never travelled outside India. Steelite’s overseas addresses do not exist.
There is nothing by way of clues at Ronnington’s office either. Inside the manager’s fancy cabin, pass heaps of shredded paper, a fiction book lay on the table. Its title read: Six Suspects.
Traders call for stricter rules
UAE traders have called for stricter rules to protect their interest following a string of scams.
Spear International, Ronnington, Steelite, Danat Al Mamzar, Al Faras, Sunlink Marine, Spark Electrical are among several bogus firms which have disappeared in recent times after buying goods worth millions against post-dated cheques, which later turn out to be duds.
Traders said their main grouse is that the police views these as simply bounced cheque cases instead of organised crime.
“Until there is a radical change in approach, such scams will continue,” said an Abu Dhabi businessman.
A Dubai tour operator who lost over Dh70,000 to a bogus firm last fortnight said, the local partners of these firms should also be made liable for the losses.
“They cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility,” added a businesswoman who lost Dh4.5 million in June this year.
Traders also called for a law to prevent establishments from buying stolen goods. “The goods I sold to Rennington were bought by another firm for half the price, but there’s nothing I can do about it as he has all the proper invoices,” said another victim.