This blog post is posted out of sequence- it was actually written on Janurary 10th of 2014.
One night sitting with dad and Tay in his house in Houston a few weeks back, he told us this remarkable story about being jailed in the UAE.
He was living in Switzerland and making occasional business trips to the middle east in his position as a manager for Honeywell. One day, after a long flight into Dubai, he was passing through customs and immigration.
"You lived here on [such and such date]?"
Yes, that sounds about right.
"Come with me, please."
The customs officer led him to a secondary screening room where he had to surrender his passport and was held for several hours. Occasionally, various officers would come out, ask him a question or two, and refuse to answer any of his questions.
Finally, two police officers arrived, and formally arrested him without stating the charges. He was taken from the airport to the Dubai jail without an inkling of what he had done to incur the wrath of the middle eastern state.
He did however, have his cell phone, and through various calls to his office while waiting in different holding rooms, began to piece together what happened.
My father had continued to live in Abu Dhabi for a few months after he and my mother divorced. They had been living in an unbelievably huge 15th floor apartment with 14' ceilings, marble floors, and probably around 4000 square feet of living space including a maid's room. The rent on this place was astronomical, but it was heavily subsidized by Honeywell.
Dad moved to Switzerland with a few months still left on the official lease. The company had moved him to his new position, and dad had given responsibility of the apartment over to the Abu Dhabi office, so he thought that they would take care of the apartment. Actually, Honeywell stopped paying the rent on the apartment, either through a deliberate cost-cutting measure or sheer negligence.
The unpaid rent accumulated and the landlord attempted to collect from whoever it could to no avail, so the landlord sold the debt. The landlord sold the debt the UAE police, who apparently supplement their department's income as debt collectors. Besides, who you gonna call? Dad comes back to town, his name is flagged a criminal debtor in the government system, and they arrest him.
In Dubai, dad's thrown in the giant holding cell with all the other recently arrested people in Dubai. Apparently its a representational demographic: there's lots of foreigners and a few national Emirati. The other people in the cell try to help him, giving him advice on meals and where to sleep and how the system of the jail works.
In the course of his work, dad works with a lot of highly placed Emiratis. Honeywell gets in touch with him: don't pull those strings, he's warned. The company is in the middle of a very high-level, high-stakes business negotiation, and it could get awkward if dad starts trying to work on some officials to get him out of jail. Just hush and don't make a fuss, they tell him.
Dad convinces his jailors that some huge mistake has been made. They move him from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, and he is given a somewhat nicer jail cell. In Abu Dhabi, he meets with one of the jail negotiators. Just pay up 20,000 dihrams, he is told, and we'll consider the debt paid and let you go. In cash.
Dad's not in the habit of carrying large sums of money in cash and his carry-on isn't stuffed with the six grand. He calls up some other associates and friends in Abu Dhabi and they pool their resources to come up with the cash. That afternoon, the jailor comes back to dad, and says, Ok, you're paid, you can go, and dad walks free.
The Honeywell did eventually reimburse everyone for the money they'd raised to get dad out of jail. The purpose of business, after all, is business. If you have to burn a few people along the way, so be it. Dad was laid off a few years later, and had to fight hard to get Honeywell to move him back to US and not just abandon him in Europe like an old paperback.
It is also a reminder of some of the privileges we enjoy as Americans, and a reminder that the vast majority of the world still languishes under draconian, autocratic, and arbitrary judicial systems. I have been to the UAE several times and I see no reason to ever return.
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