When Sutherland coined the term “white-collar crime”, he referred to those crimes that were non-violent yet financially motivated. If you have ever had someone steal your credit card and use it by impersonating you or sign on a document just the way you would have, you know that their actions attract the laws on forgery. Only a forensic document examiner would then be able to identify the original from the fake. Forgery is one of the most common white-collar crimes in the world and is met with punitive action in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Any form of alteration, modification or imitation would bring the action under the radar of the Courts in the UAE, which could have severe consequences for lawbreakers.
For instance, fake documents such as passports are subject to a ‘retro check’ by machines that use transmitted light, ultraviolet light and magnifiers to detect fraudulent usage by persons who try to enter the country. Governmental authorities and officers at every stage ensure that such documents are scrutinised and subject to a series of checks to verify that there has been no act of forgery. If any irregularities are found by the deployed officers then that people holding fake passports have attempted Decree-Law cybercrimes to enter the country, they will be made to face imprisonment terms, pay fines or even face deportation.
For a layperson, forgery might involve the creation of bogus documents or fake signatures. However, it is far more nuanced than that. Written documents, government securities and stamps, or even impersonating someone would be covered under the ambit of forgery. Of documents, either customary or official documents may be forged. Customary documents would include title deeds, birth and marriage certificates, passports, etc., whereas the forgery of government documents would include the forgery of money, bonds, postage stamps, government securities; or regular documents which could be of agreements or invoices.
The following may entail prison terms for ten (10) years, fifteen (15) years and three (3) years respectively. Forgery of documents is possible on two levels either material or moral. The former involves the creation of any material change to a document which would mean addition, deletion or modification to any document, such as the usage of ink marks, erasing contents on the document, replacing original photographs with fake ones and so on. The latter entails changing the meaning or content of such a document or using the identity of another person while holding a genuine document. For instance, if person X used a valid and genuine passport of person Y to enter into the country by falsely using Y’s identity, it would amount to moral forgery and would also lead to the commission of identity theft, which is a more serious offence to Decree-Law attempted.
Article 216 of Federal Law Number 3 of 1987 on the Penal Code (the Penal Code) defines forgery of written documents as, “the alternation of the truth by any of the following methods that are liable to cause harm to use it as a genuine document.” The following methods have been included to constitute the crime of forgery:
According to article 217 of the Penal Code, a person who forges a copy of an official document where such copy is used, or who uses a copy of an official document with knowledge of such forgery shall be sentenced to a term not more than five (5) years.
Article 204 (replaced by Article 1 of Federal Decree-Law cybercrimes Number 7/2016 dated 18/09/2016) of the Penal Code makes the forgery, counterfeiting or falsifying of a banknote or coin in circulation in the State or any other country, or government security, either in person or through an intermediary punishable with a sentence to life or temporary imprisonment and to fine of not less than UAE Dirhams two hundred (AED 2000).
While the court may order the invalidity of any document if it appears forged prima facie, parties may challenge forgery at any stage of the litigation by submitting a memorandum to the court wherein their allegations are specified, evidence is adduced and the investigation process is spelt out. If the court is convinced of the veracity of the allegation, it shall order the carrying out of such investigation. The party challenged for forgery may also interrupt the investigation process. Without prejudice to conservative measures, the challenged document would then be deemed unfit for execution. Articles 28-32 of Federal Law Number 10 of 1992 on Evidence in Civil and Commercial Transactions (the Law on Evidence), cover provisions that pertain to the challenge for forgery. In case of a dismissal of the challenge for forgery by the court or the forfeiture of the right of the challenge to prove his allegations, the challenger can be liable to pay fine ranging from UAE Dirhams five hundred (AED 500) to a maximum UAE Dirhams three thousand (AED 3000). He shall be exempted even if part of his allegations is true and the document is proved to be forged.
As per article 1 of Federal Law Number 10 of 1992 on the Law of Evidence, the plaintiff has to prove his right and the defendant must disprove the same. Therefore, the burden of proof lies on the plaintiff or challenger to prove that a particular document has been forged. Article 23 of the Law on Evidence states that the onus then lies on the opponent who takes the oath of having no knowledge of such forgery and proves that the challenger or predecessor-in-title issued such a document.
Both official and informal documents may be challenged for forgery while contesting the writing, seal, signature or fingerprints applies only to formal documents. Article 8 of the Penal Code suggests that unless formal writing is established to be forged, it has probative force erga omnes concerning the matters recorded by its author within the limits of his duties or in respect of matters performed by the parties in his presence.
Denial is sufficient in most cases for a customary document unless a challenge for forgery is made which may be contested for the writing, seal, signature or fingerprint. Therefore, the person who relies on the document must prove its authenticity under trial by an attorney while the onus on the opponent is to disprove the same. While denial is sufficient in most cases, courts have recognised men’s rea or criminal intent as an important part of forgery wherein the offence is realised by the intention to alter the truth in the document.
Articles 23(1) and 11 of Law on Evidence, suggests that mere denial is sufficient and the official or customary document may be challenged for forgery while contesting for the writing, seal, signature or fingerprint which applies only to informal documents until proven by the opponent who holds onto its authenticity of having signed the document. The opponent is responsible for the burden of proof in this case with there being no need to take the person who denies challenging forgery on what was attributed to him as his signature as per the judgment of the Court of Cassation.
The act of forgery has advanced over time and people have found novel and digital means to defraud others in the 21st century. This led to a need for new laws that deal with punishment and fines for cybercrimes in general and electronic forgery in particular. The Federal Law Number 5 of 2012 on Combating Cybercrime (the Cybercrime Law) was issued, replacing the Federal Law Number 2 of 2006 on The Prevention of Information Technology Crimes, which rescinds many of the earlier provisions and includes laws from the Penal Code and other laws that would lead to the ill-repute of the State or its individuals. Article 4 of the Cybercrime Law provides for the temporary detention of a person who forges a government document legally recognised in an Information System. For any other document, if criminal intent or men’s cybercrimes rea is present during the commission of an act of forgery, the person may be imprisoned or be subject to a fine, or face both imprisonment and fine. The law also imposes penalties on persons who knowingly use such forged documents or are responsible for the moral forgery. Article 14 of the Cybercrime Law further criminalises the forgery or imitation of credit cards, debit cards or any other mode of electronic payment. It also punishes a person who knows about such forgery for accepting forged credit cards, debit cards or any electronic mode of payment. Punishment may include either imprisonment or fines not less than UAE Dirhams five hundred (AED 500) and not exceeding UAE Dirhams two thousand (AED 2000), or both imprisonment and the imposition of a fine.
If someone thought they could get away with creating a fake passport or swiping your credit card to get themselves a little gift in UAE, they’re in trouble! It’s hard to escape hawk-eyed authorities and the fairly cut outlaws on forgery that stringently punish and impose heavy fines on offenders.
The Union Supreme Court Case in 409 of 2007 was decided on 16 July 2007.
The Union Supreme Court in Case 633 of 2005 decided on 14 November 2005.