UK News: British grandfather, 67, detained in Ukraine alongside murderers over cheque that bounced 13 years ago that he claims was identity theft - PressFrom - United Kingdom
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UK News British grandfather, 67, detained in Ukraine alongside murderers over cheque that bounced 13 years ago that he claims was identity theft

20:50  09 october  2019
20:50  09 october  2019 Source:   inews.co.uk

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A British man who works abroad as a shipping company manager has spoken of his shock at being detained in Ukraine over a bounced cheque from 13 years ago.

Grandfather Robert Urwin said he was held for a month in a detention centre last year, and described sharing a cell with people who had committed violent crimes such as murder and as "terrifying". He says he was threatened with violence and became a victim of extortion "on a daily basis".

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The 67-year-old insists he knew nothing about a bounced cheque for £30,000 written in Dubai over a decade ago using his personal bank account, and says he has provided documents proving he had left the country six months before.

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Despite being released from prison without charge, he has faced a near year-long ordeal to clear his name and still can't leave the Ukraine because an Interpol arrest warrant remains in place.

Speaking to the i from the city of Odessa, Robert, a father-of-two, said he was desperate to get back to his family in South Shields, near Newscastle. "I just want to get home to my wife. It's been a nightmare and I don't know when it will be over, there's such little communication. I'm trapped here and it's so unfair."

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The shipping company manager revealed photos of the condition at the detention centre (Photo: Robert Urwin)

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Shock arrest

Robert had worked and lived in the UAE city from 1999 for six years, then moved to Athens, Greece, in 2005. The bank claimed he had written the cheque in 2006 that later bounced.

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Then last October, when visiting Ukraine as part of his role with Newcastle-based ASP Shipping Management, he was suddently arrested at the airport. He was held on an Interpol red notice – an international alert for wanted fugitives – requested by HSBC in Dubai.

"It was a huge shock being arrested as I never used or had taken a cheque book out with me to Dubai and I had left the country to work in Greece six months before it was written. It can only be identity theft. I have the stamps in my passport showing this and proof from the company I worked for," he said.

The 67-year-old described living with daily threats of violence (Photo: Robert Urwin)

"I also found out that the red notice was first issued in 2013, yet in the five years before my arrest I'd visited dozens of countries for work and just walked through immigration. I don't understand why it was only picked up last year."

Detention centre 'hell'

After being held in a police station in Kiev – where he says he was given no food and just one bottle of water for three days – Robert was transferred to a detention centre which he described as "hell".

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"There was a mafia boss who ran each cell block, who worked with the corrupt prison guards," he said. "I was given the choice of being put in a cell with murderers and rapists or paying the equivalent of £1,000 to be in with more civilised people.

Robert, with one of his daughters, still isn't allowed to leave the Ukraine (Photo: Robert Urwin)

"I paid up, it took a while for my wife to be able to transfer the money so I was stuck in with the murderers for a while, with one bragging with great pride that he'd killed three people, another injecting drugs every night. I've never seen the inside of a cell in my life so it was terrifying.

"I ended up being moved in to a more civilised cell, but one guy there had committed armed robbery and murder so it wasn't that much better. But once I'd paid, the daily demands for more money carried on. I had to pay €50 for a single bottle of water. The food was inedible too," he claimed.

Robert says his wife Valerie visited him in Ukraine soon after he left prison but one of the mafia bosses called his workplace in an attempt to extort more money from him, threatening to break both his and his wife's legs. She has remained in the UK since.

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Too scared to fly

Robert was released after 45 days and told that neither the Dubai authorities or HSBC had applied for his extradition or provided further evidence of the alleged fraud. But his solicitor has warned him that the bank has not asked for the red notice to be dropped, so he could still face arrest if he attempts to leave the country.

He is continuing to work for his company from their office in Odessa, who have helped him secure a flat to live in.

"Normally, if a country doesn't apply for extradition like Dubai hasn't, you should be free to go back to your home country but I can't. I can't risk trying to fly, I'm too scared I'd be forced to spent another 45 days in jail."

'Abuse' of Interpol

Campaign group Detained in Dubai have applied to Interpol to have the red notice lifted, but say the organisation "works very slowly" and has called on HSBC to withdraw it instead, otherwise it may take nine months.

Radha Stirling, founder of the group, claimed some have treated Interpol as an unofficial debt collecting agency, and accused Interpol of not scrutinising the requests.

She said: "Financial cases and civil disputes are not eligible for Interpol listings according to their own rules, but there is no scrutiny; Interpol just accepts the requests and lists the names they have been given. It is left to individuals who have been wrongly listed to appeal for the removal of their names from Interpol’s database.

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A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: “We are providing assistance to a British man in Ukraine and our staff are in contact with the Ukrainian authorities and his family in the UK.”

Interpol said it cannot comment on individual cases. A spokesperson said: "Interpol does not issue red notices upon its own initiative, but only upon request of a member country or international tribunal, following a review to ensure its compliance with the organization’s constitution and rules."

HSBC declined to comment.

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