NEWS FROM THE UAE
SOURCE : THE NATIOINAL
Keeping up with the bad guys
ABU DHABI - JAN 14: It is a busy time for forensics experts in the capital.
Fingerprints have been recovered from a half-smoked cigarette at a ransacked villa in Khalifa City; DNA extracted from skin particles found beneath a woman’s fingernails is being analysed; footage from a surveillance camera shows a woman discreetly reaching into a supermarket till; hundreds of fraudulent passports, all with identical errors, are being examined for links to organised crime; empty shell casings are found near a house while hundreds of kilometres away a 9mm handgun is thrown away at the side of a road; a dead body lies at the foot of a 20-storey building – is it suicide or murder?
This is not some contrived plot for a glitzy Hollywood TV crime series, but a random sampling of the real crime-scene puzzles Abu Dhabi’s Forensic Science Department is trying to solve.
The department, with state-of-the-art equipment, an unlimited budget, and 350 highly skilled civilian and police workers, is one of the most advanced in the region. Although forensic science has always been a part of Abu Dhabi Police’s make-up, the changing nature of crime and the role of the organisation have dramatically increased its importance over the past decade.
“Scientific evidence is unbiased. Forensics is a major part that drives us at the truth and justice is served more efficiently and accurately if you present scientific truth,” said Col Abdul al Hammadi, the department’s director.
Sitting on the fifth floor of a dimly lit building inside the Abu Dhabi Police headquarters compound, Col al Hammadi is the epitome of efficiency – he often has a trail of people following in his wake who want reports signed or his opinion on a new development. But he does not just manage the department, he inspects many of the crime scenes himself.
“There is a greater need today for forensics than before,” said Col al Hammadi. “Previously, courts relied on testimonies and witnesses, but today there is a demand for scientific proof. That proof is beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Last month the department was involved with 551 different cases – 76 per cent of which were in Abu Dhabi, 17 per cent in Al Ain and seven per cent in the northern Emirates.
More than half involved biological and chemical testing for alcohol, drugs or poisons. Each case can involve dozens of pieces of evidence which, in turn, can mean thousands of individual tests. And December is one of the department’s slower months.
Criminals have always been keen on using the latest technology, whether to help unlock safety deposit boxes or perfect the production of counterfeit money. “We not only have to match the criminals’ tools we have to be a few steps ahead of them,” says Col al Hammadi.
With seven sections using equipment on par with Britain’s Scotland Yard and the latest technologies from the US and Canada, the forensics department is setting the bar high.
“Our goal is to become one of the best forensics department in the world and there is no reason why we cannot be. We have the leadership of His Highness [Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior], the financial resources and the desire to be the best in the Middle East.”
Lack of money is usually the barrier to achieving excellence but this is not the case in Abu Dhabi. “Our budget works like this: whatever project you have, you submit it with a detailed justification and if the leadership sees merit to it, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be approved, however big,” said Col al Hammadi.
The backing of Sheikh Saif is the driving force behind what many experts consider to be the Middle East’s best forensics department.
With an internal auditing process reporting directly to the minister, the department has set a New Year’s goal to have all its units accredited by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), which sets the standards for technical excellence worldwide.
The analytical chemical unit was recently reviewed by the ISO and won accreditation, putting Abu Dhabi on par with Britain.
The department asked The National not to publish details of its equipment so as not to give criminals here or abroad any help in avoiding detection.
With the UAE’s cosmopolitan population, an investigation can include several places, or even countries. This globalisation of crime presents a communications challenge to every forensics department.
“Our relationship with other emirates is excellent. Aside from several meetings annually, we exchange ideas and information regularly,” said Col al Hammadi. “If there are certain machines that Dubai for example has and we only need it once a year, we don’t need to buy it. If we have an expert in a field Sharjah needs, we share him. We always work together.”
A nationwide registry of criminal evidence is also being compiled to make sharing intelligence more straightforward.
“The biggest challenge for us today is that today’s crime scenes are often global. A part of a crime can be committed here and in another country. We are constantly working on developing ways to exchange information with other countries,” Col al Hammadi added.
Dubai Police arrest 83 in illegal housing raids
DUBAI - UAE - JAN 14: Police have arrested 83 men alleged to be living illegally in a market building housing an electricity transformer.
Raids were carried out last week by Dubai Municipality with Dubai Police at the Central Fruit and Vegetable Market in Warsan.
Khalifa Hareb, the municipality’s director of properties, said the men were sleeping in the transformer room, telephone rooms and water pumping stations inside the market.
Some were market workers and their employer will be prosecuted or face fines for making them sleep in inadequate housing, Mr Hareb said. “Others were illegal residents who had no other accommodation.”
The six buildings had been built to house market workers. Mr Hareb said he did not know why the workers had been living in illegal quarters.
Authorities warned last year that companies would be fined up to Dh25,000 (US$6,800) if workers were housed in factories or at worksites without permission.
Last year police found at least 200 labourers living in cardboard boxes in the basement of a building site. The workers had complained about their living conditions and a case has been filed against the general manager of the building company
Counterfeiting is a big business
ABU DHABI - JAN 14: Counterfeit money, fraudulent passports and fake documents are not petty crime transactions taking place in dark alleys – they are multimillion dollar operations by organised criminal gangs with the resources to fool governments, said Major Amal Mohammed, head of the documentation unit at the Forensics Science Department.
She walks into the room waving hundreds of crisp Dh500 bills.
“Without giving you details, this is a recent case of Dh95,000 counterfeited. Our own currency,” she said, handing over one of the notes.
However sophisticated, a counterfeited currency can never be identical to the real thing because only one plate is used to print the authentic currency. “Still, to the untrained eye, you would never know the difference.”
Under some of the most advanced magnification and lighting equipment, however, the flaws in a forged note are as clear as daylight. “Not only can we tell the note is fake, but we can even tell you that these notes are from the same exact printer and what kind of printer it is, done by the same exact artist, from a previous case,” she said.
Under examination, the unit is able to identify not only if a note is counterfeit, but the style of letter patterns, the paper, the ink, the absorption rate, the heat rate and the mistakes that help to profile the organisations behind the crime.
When the old Dh200 bill became a major target of counterfeited crimes, “it was changed in May 2008 with a lot more security features”, Major Mohammed said.
As Abu Dhabi’s economic and financial market emerges as a world leader, it is becoming a target for organised crime. “What we know is that these crimes happen for the sole purpose of profitability.”
“I can only say there are other countries who specialise in these crimes. The challenge is how to work with their governments to bring an end to this,” she said.
Many people in less privileged countries will often pay their life’s savings to get what they think is a flawless counterfeited passport. Only when they arrive at the port of entry do they realise that, not only were they fooled and robbed, but they will have to spend the next six months behind bars, after which they will be deported. Such cases clog the courts across the country.
The vast majority of counterfeit papers come from the subcontinent. “The three major nationalities, and by major I mean 80 to 90 per cent, of all the fake passports are Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi and so far their only motive of entering is for working because of the situation in their own country,” said Major Mohammed.
Those using stolen European passports with changed photographs rarely stay in the UAE. “Those people are usually trying to escape their own country and want to use Abu Dhabi as a transit point, thinking it’s an easy target. They are in for a shock,” added Major Mohammed.
Capital plans seven new parks
ABU DHABI - JAN 14: The parks will open more than 60,000 square metres of public space and include shaded playgrounds and benches.
Construction is to begin in September, said Abdul Aziz al Jeraishi, the director of parks and recreational facilities.
“Right now in Abu Dhabi island, we have just general park areas for the public,” he said yesterday. “But these seven parks will be in the residential areas with playgrounds, bench seats and footpaths.”
Mr al Jeraishi said the parks would be in the Al Bateen, Al Mushraf, Al Za’ab, Al Rawda and Al Nahyan areas.
“The seven pocket gardens are really going to increase the green areas in Abu Dhabi, which is part of the plan,” Mr al Jeraishi said, referring to the Urban Planning Council’s Plan Abu Dhabi 2030.
“They will be in residential areas, which is good because it will be very close to the people.”
The design firm Hyder Consulting, which helped create the new Corniche swimming beach, was chosen to draw up the blueprints for the parks, he said.
The blueprints are nearly complete and bids on the project will soon be sought, Mr al Jeraishi said. He would not say how much the parks would cost.
The largest park, in Al Mushraf, will occupy 25,613 square metres, according to the state news agency, WAM. It will be near the Women’s General Union on Airport Road and will have sporting facilities including a jogging track and roller-skating area.
Another park in Al Mushraf, near Passport Bridge, will cover 3,010 square metres.
Al Bateen will also have two parks, one at Bainouna Street covering 17,497 square meters and the other 4,570 square metres at Al Falah and Sultan bin Zayed streets.
There will be smaller parks in Al Za’ab, around the Khalifa bin Shakbut and Al Falah Streets, and in Al Rawda, near the Rawda medical centre. A park also will open across from the new Red Crescent building in Al Nahyan near Al Salam Street, covering 5,500 square metres.
Dr Rajeshree Singhania, a Dubai paediatrician, has campaigned for more playgrounds in the UAE, arguing that recreation time is important to the social, physical, emotional and mental development of young people.
She welcomed the news. “Oh, that’s brilliant. That’s a brilliant thing they’ve done,” she said. “This is so much better than just having a new mall. This gives access to the outdoors that’s going to be safe and natural and accessible and of course environmental. It’s going to allow families to do things together other than sit and watch television.”