Brit may face decades in Qatar jail after being arrested in Spain over debt

Steven Williams may face decades in prison in Qatar after he was arrested in Spain with his family over a debt he ran up while living in the Arab country. Picture: Steven Williams
Steven Williams may face decades in prison in Qatar after he was arrested in Spain with his family over a debt he ran up while living in the Arab country. Picture: Steven Williams
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A British man fears decades in prison in Qatar after he was arrested while on holiday in Spain with his family over a debt he ran up while living in the Arab country.

Steven Williams was horrified to discover a £30,000 bank debt he owes has spiralled to £92,000 in just two years – and said he was shocked and shaken after being detained in a cell for six days.

The father-of-two has been released but is stuck in Majorca without his passport – and he may have to wait up two years for an extradition hearing while unable to work and support himself.

His father, Stephen Williams, has remortgaged his house and offered to pay £25,000 and further monthly payments but says the bank won’t drop a charge of fraud against his son.

Mr Williams told The Scotsman’s sister title i: “This has been traumatic. My children are crying and haven’t been able to go to school and my partner is off work sick with stress. If I’m extradited to Qatar that would just break me and my family.

“I know there I could be facing an extremely long process and jail sentence.”

Detained in Dubai, which helps Britons trapped in prisons across the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, is now fighting his case. The human rights group says it shows that Qatar banks are getting away with using Interpol as debt collectors.

Chief executive Radha Stirling said: “This is a misuse of Interpol. Instead of saying it’s a debt matter – which is a civil issue in every other country – the banks in Qatar and United Arab Emirates say it’s fraud and they report it as a criminal matter.

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“This is then resulting in human rights abuses and people in debt in these countries can face decades in jail.”

Mr Williams’ father has set up a GoFundMe appeal to ask the public for help which has so far raised £2,110 of its £20,000 goal.

Mr Williams, from Bridgend, South Wales, was detained at Palma de Mallorca Airport on 11 August when he arrived for a 10-day break with his partner Natalie and children Finn, 12, and Lottie, seven.

The 36-year-old had left his family and lived in Qatar from February 2013 for just over two years to work as an operations manager.

Mr Williams, from Bridgend, South Wales, was detained at Palma de Mallorca Airport on 11 August when he arrived for a 10-day break with his partner Natalie and children Finn, 12, and Lottie, seven.

The 36-year-old had left his family and lived in Qatar from February 2013 for just over two years to work as an operations manager.

He says he was overpaid by the company he worked for through his salary for a furniture allowance for the flat they set him up in and he owed them the money back. He took out loans and credit cards totalling £30,000 to pay the firm and to buy a new Jeep.

But then his family told him Natalie was struggling with depression and he left his job to return home.

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“You normally can’t leave Qatar when you have debts but I was advised I could go and HR would issue an exit permit because it was an emergency,” he said. “I thought it would all be okay.”

Mr Williams, a window fitter, said he continued to make payments for the two loans and an outstanding credit card balance but says he couldn’t afford the £650 a month they were demanding he paid.

“The banks have really pushy sales tactics in Qatar and offer you so much money.

“I’ve been paying the debt so I don’t understand how it’s risen to £92,000 in such a short space of time – they’re adding interest and fees on and it’s just terrifying they can get away with it. My dad has even offered to pay a large chunk of money but they’ve rejected it.

“After I was released in Majorca, my family had to fly home after a couple of weeks and I’ve been here three weeks now on my own and have had to fork out for hotels. I’ve not been given any idea when my next hearing will be. I can’t work and I can’t afford this.

“I’ve got a free lawyer but they change every week. I’ve never been to prison before and the idea is frightening.”

Ms Stirling says the banks in Qatar hope the threat of Interpol and criminal action frightens people into repaying their loans in full to avoid extradition and the country’s prison system.

“They see it as a means to pressure people,” she said.

“They then add crazy amounts of interest and fees. Mr Williams’ balance may well be doubled in six months. There is no regulation.”

She said it is “highly risky” for Mr Williams to be extradited to Qatar. “People face paying extortionate amounts – such as £50,000 – for legal representation and the judicial system is renowned for being unfair. “The punishment for fraud can be severe – up to three years in prison per bounced cheque. Look at the case of British businessman Jonathan Nash who was jailed there for 37 years. “If Mr Williams was sent back to the UK he faces a better chance but Spain has previously refused to extradite people in similar situations back here. A full extradition hearing there could take two years.”

Ms Stirling said that she will be writing to Interpol and the bank that Mr Williams owes money to put pressure on them to drop the charges – but she said that could take two to nine months. A

Foreign & Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: “Our staff are assisting a British man following his detention and subsequent release in Spain.”

Interpol have been approached for comment.