Dubai: A German businesswoman is running from pillar to post to get her life back on track after serving 18 months in jail for a bounced cheque.
Manja Kathrin Konig, 47, who was released in October last year, said she became a "victim of unfortunate circumstances" when her business partner deposited her "unnamed" Dh480,000 "security cheque" into his bank account.
The cheque, which bounced, was issued as a guarantee by Konig to her Austrian partner, who also happened to be a family friend, as he had invested in her business in the UAE.
Sequence of events
Konig's Austrian husband Peter, whom she married in 1991, died in February 2005 following a heart attack. She herself underwent surgery in early 2006 to remove a brain tumour. At that time, her oncologist gave her six months to live. It was then that she decided to sell her family chemicals business in Austria. On August 22, 2006, Konig launched a beverage trading company in Dubai, a city which she had often visited before her husband's death.
In June 2009, following the bounced-cheque complaint from her business partner, Konig was sentenced to nine months in prison after spending a month in detention.
As a result of her imprisonment, her rent cheque bounced too and four months were added to her jail term. She was further made to serve another four months for an "absconding" report lodged by the Free Zone authority.
"My children have gone through severe trauma. I just want to stand on my own feet again.
"I've been told that the Austrian government had arranged for their deportation. I want to tell my daughters that I am not a criminal and I love them. There's nothing else in life I want but to be with them, to see them grow up," she said. The last photograph that Konig has of her three daughters — who all hold Austrian passports — is two years old.
Caught in what she said was a "vicious cycle", Konig is appealing to "people of goodwill" and her compatriots to help her out of her legal limbo in Dubai. "Someone from the German consulate in Dubai visited me in jail with a list of lawyers, but I don't have the money to pay an acceptance fee," she said.
She currently lives off the goodwill of a female friend in Ajman while her financial obligations have been piling up for each day. Konig's residence visa also expired on August 14, 2010.
In their happier days, Konig ran a company that employed nearly 30 people in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. They lived in a posh four-bedroom villa in Jumeirah Islands paid for by her company, had two nannies and her children went to elite Dubai schools.
All of that started to vanish since the dud cheque case was lodged. Without a lawyer to face her landlord, who renewed her tenancy contract without her signature, all her belongings inside the villa vanished without trace.
Her two under-age daughters, Katarina, 10, and Kimberly, 12, are now under the care of the government-run Oberwart orphanage in Austria, while her eldest daughter Tiffany, 18, is living with her paternal grandparents in Burgenland, 70 km south of Vienna.
Her status is still that of an absconder as she has to pay Dh39,000 in fees for her company in the Free Zone, even though the company had stopped operating by the time she landed in jail.
The Dubai rent court has now ruled that Konig must pay her former landlord Dh401,985 for the remaining period of the tenancy contract after her landlord renewed it without her signature when she was in jail.
She fears she will not see her children again if she returns to prison. "I would like to have our lives back. I'm just thankful when I wake up everyday that I'm still alive," Konig said.