The UK-UAE partnership: Closing the net on criminals? Sophia Kerridge discusses

On 16 September 2021, the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates set out a Partnership for the Future between the two countries to strengthen collaboration in a number of areas.[1] The next day, the UK Home Secretary and the UAE Minister of State signed the UK-UAE Partnership to Tackle Illicit Financial Flows which has been sold as an opportunity to “bolster law enforcement by enhancing intelligence sharing and joint operations between the UK and UAE against serious and organised crime networks.”[2] There will be an annual meeting to ensure progress towards this objective.

So, what will this mean for those criminals hiding in the warmer climes of the UAE or those living in the UK but wanted by the UAE? And what might this cooperation mean for extradition practitioners in the UK?

The UAE - A haven for criminals?

The UK has underlined the Partnership’s “particular focus on high-risk sectors such as dealers of precious metals or stones, real-estate and emerging technologies such as crypto currencies,” areas for which the UAE has been criticised in the past. A recent report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace noted that Dubai in particular has a reputation for being the destination of choice for criminal operations, investments and residence. This has thrived in part due to weak regulation and enforcement paired with investment opportunities aimed at outsiders, not least in the property market and gold trade.[3] 

The UAE is a signatory to various conventions, treaties, and resolutions and in 2018 adopted the Anti-Money Laundering/Counter-Terrorism Financing Law. Nevertheless, in April 2020 the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF) highlighted the limited number of money laundering prosecutions and convictions in the UAE. It placed the country under observation to ensure it fully implements its own legislation, actively works to dismantle international money laundering networks, and improves formal cross-border cooperation on criminal cases.[4]

Extradition and international cooperation from the UAE

The FATF report noted that the UAE has a sound legislative basis for international cooperation but its provision of mutual legal assistance (MLA) and extradition is minimal.[5] It is generally viewed as uncooperative and ineffective when it comes to cooperating on issues of general and financial crime, unless these relate to terrorism.[6] Of course, MLA and international cooperation are notoriously bogged down by bureaucracy, but in the UAE this is exacerbated by lack of transparency and the competing priorities of the agencies involved.[7]

There have been extraditions from the UAE to the UK since the extradition treaty between the two countries came into force in 2008. A recent high-profile example is Leon Cullen, a “gangland boss” who fled to the UAE in 2018, was arrested there in January 2020 and extradited to the UK in February 2021. In May he was sentenced to a 22-and-a-half-year custodial sentence at Liverpool Crown Court.[8]

However, there are significant concerns that the UAE will forego due processes and extradite people where it is politically expedient. For example, in 2018 Christian Michel was extradited from the UAE to India as a “de facto swap” for Princess Latifa who had been detained by the Indian authorities as she was trying to flee the UAE.[9]

Extradition to the UAE

The UAE is infamous for its overzealous use of Interpol Red Notices against those with outstanding debt. This led Interpol to instigate a rule that Red Notices would only be issued for unfunded cheques over $10,000. In addition, the UAE is known to make those who have fallen out of political favour subject to Interpol Red Notices, essentially limiting their ability to travel or conduct their affairs in freedom. [10]  

Despite its engagement with Interpol to seek the return of individuals, the UAE has on occasion bypassed these formalities, most notoriously in relation to two of its princesses: Princess Shamsa had fled her family and was kidnapped in Cambridge in 2000 and forcibly returned to the UAE; and her sister, Princess Latifa as described above.[11] While the UK expressed concern over these incidents, this has not affected the “deep and historic relations that the two countries share.”[12]

In contrast, UK Courts have been hesitant to extradite individuals to the UAE following the 2010 case of Lodhi v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] EWHC 567 (Admin).  Extradition has been refused on a variety of grounds and foremost amongst these are human rights concerns about what the requested person will face if extradited. Likely breaches of Article 3 (torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) and Article 6 (fair trial) have been successfully argued.[13]  At those contested hearings, Courts have benefited from hearing the often-harrowing accounts given by people who have experienced custody and the trial process in the UAE first hand.  In relation to the issue of unfunded cheques, the High Court in UAE v Allen[14] found that “issuing an uncovered cheque” was not subject to dual criminality and in addition there was no evidence of dishonesty to establish a prima facie case.

Interestingly, despite the UAE making ample use of international extradition mechanisms, it has been criticised by UK Courts for its relative lack of engagement in the extradition process, issuing poor assurances in relation to prison conditions or fair trial safeguards.

The partnership and the impact on Extradition

It may seem odd that the UK has formed a Partnership with the UAE given its poor human rights record and irregular rule of law but perhaps this is evidence of a pragmatic approach: political leverage may be exactly what is needed to cut through the bureaucracy and weak law enforcement to close the net on those who have committed crimes in the UK and are hiding themselves or their funds in the UAE.

It is important to underline that the Partnership is a political agreement, it does nothing to change the law as applied by extradition courts in the UK. As such, while there continue to be serious concerns about the human rights of those accused, convicted or detained in the UAE, British Courts will scrutinise any extradition requests with care and, it is hoped, a healthy dose of scepticism. There are no signs that the situation is improving[15] and therefore it is unlikely UK Courts will change their position anytime soon.

Sophia is a barrister practising in all areas of criminal and regulatory law. She has experience of professional discipline and regulatory cases and a growing practice in extradition. Sophia prosecutes and defends in a wide range of criminal cases and is Youth Court qualified. Her experience extends to cases brought by private prosecutors involving trademark and environmental offences. Sophia also accepts instructions in family law.



[3] “Introduction” Matthew T. Page and Jodi Vittori, Eds, Dubai’s Role In Facilitating Corruption And Global Illicit Financial Flows, (2020) Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,

[5] “Anti–Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Measures: United Arab Emirates Mutual Evaluation Report,” Financial Action Task Force, April 2020, 12,

[6] Karen Greenaway “How Emirati Law Enforcement Allows Kleptocrats and Organized Crime to Thrive”, Dubai’s Role In Facilitating Corruption And Global Illicit Financial Flows, (2020) Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,

[7] Karen Greenaway, “How Emirati Law Enforcement Allows Kleptocrats and Organized Crime to Thrive”, Dubai’s Role In Facilitating Corruption And Global Illicit Financial Flows, (2020) Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,

[8] BBC News, Warrington drugs and guns boss who was extradited from UAE jailed, 14 May 2021,

[9] Opinion No. 88/2020 concerning Christian James Michel (United Arab Emirates and India) at its eighty-ninth session, 23–27 November 2020, United Nations Human Rights Council, Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, A/HRC/WGAD/2020/88 (4 March 2021)

[10] Undue Influence- The UAE and Interpol: Sir David Calvert-Smith in conjunction with International Human Rights Advisors (2021)

[13] See Lord Advocate v Black [2017] SC EDIN 77, Lodhi v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] EWHC 567 (Admin), UAE v Halliday, Westminster Magistrates’ Court, 22 December 2015, UAE v Saujani, Westminster Magistrates’ Court, 5 August 2015

[14] UAE v Allen [2012] EWHC 1712 (Admin)

[15] In 2018 Matthew Hedges, a British academic researching his thesis in the UAE, was detained and sentenced to life in prison on charges of spying. He was tortured, culminating in him signing a confession in Arabic, which he did not understand. He was eventually pardoned following a rare public rebuke by UK authorities to the Emirati government. More recently in October 2021, Billy Hood was sentenced to 25 years after CBD oil was found in his car. He claims to have been held in isolation in unhygienic conditions and pressured by police into signing a confession in Arabic, which he does not speak.