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As Dubai's Glitter Fades, Foreigners See Dark Side

Uneasy Foreigners

Locals have been picked up, too, and some complain of being unjustly detained. But well-connected Emirati rarely spend long in jail for economic crimes. Wary of debtors' prison, a growing number of foreigners simply run away.

Simon Ford, a British entrepreneur, skipped town this summer after his company, a specialty gift service, was hit by the crisis and couldn't pay its bills. He wrote an emotional "letter to the Dubai public" to apologize for bailing out. He acknowledged that he owed money, and said he had fled because Dubai "drives people to make horrible decisions." He promised to pay back creditors.

Jaubert, the ex-French spy, said he fled because he feared getting stuck in Dubai's penal twilight zone. A keen amateur marksman, he was first called in for questioning in 2007 after bullets were found at his submarine company offices. Interrogators told him that someone had been shot in the head and that he might be involved. Jaubert replied that he didn't have a gun: his rifle, which he had declared at Customs, was still stuck at the Dubai airport. His bullets got through.

Security officers accused him of lying. Warning him that Dubai "is not France; there is no democracy here," an interrogator heard on Jaubert's tape threatened to put him "in a cave 300 meters underground, away from the world and your family, and I will keep you there until you tell the truth." Jaubert said authorities later accused him of fraud because "they were just looking for something to nail me with."

Jaubert blamed his woes on pressure on Dubai World to rein in some of the wilder investment projects launched by Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, the company's chairman, who had first invited Jaubert to Dubai. "It was a palace struggle over money," Jaubert said.

The Escape

Reached on his cellphone, Sulayem declined to comment. Dubai World's internal audit chief, Abdul Qadar Obaid Ali, said Jaubert and his submarine venture ran into trouble for other reasons: His submarines didn't work, and auditors uncovered evidence of fraud involving overbilling for equipment purchases. Jaubert denied this, saying all the transactions were approved and paid for by Dubai World managers.

Fired from Exomos, the submarine company, and unable to get his passport back, Jaubert hatched an elaborate escape plan. He sent his wife and their two boys to Florida. He had diving equipment shipped out from France -- broken down into small bits to avoid arousing suspicion. Then, using a phony name, he bought a Zodiac dinghy and sailboat. Using Google Earth, he surveyed the UAE coastline for an escape route. He found an isolated beach and arranged for a friend to take the sailboat out into international waters.

On the eve of his escape, the former spy checked into a hotel near the beach, put on his diving equipment and donned a long abaya, the body-covering cloak worn by strictly observant Muslim women. He said he then went down the beach and swam underwater to a nearby harbor, where the only patrol boat in the vicinity was moored. He clambered aboard and sabotaged the fuel line to make sure the craft could not give chase, he said.

Jaubert then set out to sea in the dinghy to the boat his friend had positioned just outside the UAE's territorial waters, and they sailed toward India. After eight days at sea, the pair arrived in Mumbai -- an account corroborated by his traveling companion. With a new passport issued by the French consulate, Jaubert flew to join his wife in Florida, where he is writing a book he has titled "Escape From Dubai."

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