Friday, February 6, 2009
From The Times
February 5, 2009
Sonia Verma in Dubai
For many expatriate workers in Dubai it was the ultimate symbol of their tax-free wealth: a luxurious car that few could have afforded on the money they earned at home.
Now, faced with crippling debts as a result of their high living and Dubai’s fading fortunes, many expatriates are abandoning their cars at the airport and fleeing home rather than risk jail for defaulting on loans.
Police have found more than 3,000 cars outside Dubai’s international airport in recent months. Most of the cars – four-wheel drives, saloons and “a few” Mercedes – had keys left in the ignition.
Some had used-to-the-limit credit cards in the glove box. Others had notes of apology attached to the windscreen.
“Every day we find more and more cars,” said one senior airport security official, who did not want to be named. “Christmas was the worst – we found more than two dozen on a single day.”
When the market collapsed and the emirate’s once-booming economy started to slow down, many expatriates were left owning several homes and unable to pay the mortgages without credit.
“There were a lot of people living the high life, investing in real estate and a lifestyle they couldn’t afford,” one senior banker said.
Under Sharia, which prevails in Dubai, the punishment for defaulting on a debt is severe. Bouncing a check, for example, is punishable with jail. Those who flee the emirate are known as skips.
Police have issued warrants against owners of the deserted cars. Those who return risk arrest at the airport.