A group of around three dozen suppliers of Al Manama Supermarket addressing the media. They claimed that the 40-year-old chain, with 20 supermarkets and hypermarkets, never had a history of bounced cheques or delayed payments. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: An Indian supermarket chain in the UAE has downed shutters of many branches after the owner allegedly fled the country leaving hundreds of employees in the lurch and millions of dirhams in dues to suppliers.

The local sponsor, suppliers and employees of Ajman-headquartered Al Manama Group on Thursday alleged that the managing director of the group had left the UAE two months ago without paying salaries and pending payments.

Speaking separately, they said the group that runs more than 20 supermarkets and hypermarkets in all emirates except Abu Dhabi shut down most of the branches by this month after the head office was closed down in the last week of November.

Addressing the media, a group of around three dozen suppliers claimed that the 40-year-old company, which never had any previous history of bounced cheques and delayed payment, sank in the past few months.

“Since June, they started delaying payments. But nobody distrusted them because they had been in the business for four decades,” said P.K. Kutty, sales manager of Al Jazira Poultry Farm that sold fresh eggs to the chain.

Stanley Rodrigues, general manager of Datar and Sons Limited, said many suppliers including him were told that they would be paid by the end of November. “But on November 25, we heard that something wrong was going on and when most of us went to their head office, we found it closed.”

A closed Al Manama Supermarket in Karama. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Since then, nobody from the management has been answering calls, the suppliers claimed.

Naveen S. Gopalan, sales manager of Seven Harvest Trading, said some suppliers whose cheques have bounced have filed complaints.

However, there are many like Kutty who just have got invoices. “There is nobody to give us answers. We don’t know how to claim our companies’ money,” he said.

Gulf News tried to contact all 24 numbers listed on the website of the group and sent an email to the group but there was no response.

When contacted, however, the local sponsor said the group run by Abdul Khadar Sabeer, hailing from the South Indian state of Kerala, has gone bankrupt and Sabeer, the managing director, has fled the country.

“I was never a signatory to the bank cheques. I have never been part of the operations. He has left the UAE illegally after he got into financial issues. He owes millions to the banks also. I also have a Dh3.5m cheque from him,” said the Emirati sponsor Hamad Al Matroushi.

He claimed that he has settled the payments of around 600 employees though he was not obliged to do so.

“There are about 1,300-1,400 employees. Most of them were not paid for three months. Out of my goodwill, I have settled all the payments of around 600 of them.”

One of the managers of a supermarket said hundreds of employees are facing a bleak future in the main labour accommodation of the group in Ajman.

“Till last month, we were told that a new partner will come and after selling a few shops, the management will settle the suppliers’ payments and clear all our dues. Stocks worth millions of dirhams are lying in the stores even after we did many promotions to clear the goods.”

Though another group has taken over a few outlets, Al Matroushi said he was not made aware of the power of attorney that Sabeer has given them.

Gulf News could not reach Sabeer for comments.