DAMAC hired ex-con fraudster sales chief

Former vice president of sales was US federal inmate number 99909-071

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By  Colin Foreman and Sean Cronin Published  May 28, 2005

A probe is underway into how one of the Middle East’s largest property developers came to hire a convicted fraudster as a senior sales manager. A Construction Week investigation has revealed that the UAE-based developer DAMAC unwittingly employed ex-con Nigel Russell as senior vice president of sales, based in its Dubai International Financial Centre office. But what the firm did not know was that the former timeshare salesman had a criminal past spanning two decades, and a rap sheet running to several pages. DAMAC fired him earlier this month, when the developer conducted a background check on his credentials. For several years, Russell, 43, lived and worked in the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina. It was here that the UK citizen became involved in the timeshare business and formed his own property company. In 2001, US revenue officials began an investigation covering Russell’s tax returns from 1999 to 2001. On 22nd September 2003, Russell was sentenced to one year and one day in a federal prison for passport fraud, tax evasion and possessing two firearms while living as an alien in the United States. Kevin McDonald, chief assistant US Attorney in the South Carolina United States Attorney’s Office, confirmed that Russell pleaded guilty to both counts of passport fraud and possessing firearms. He also pleaded guilty to three counts of tax evasion. A year earlier, the South Carolina Real Estate Commission revoked Russell’s real estate license and fined him US $1000 for being convicted of a felony in the State of Florida, and for failing to report it on his application for a South Carolina timeshare license. After serving his time in prison for the fraud and firearm offences, Russell, whose federal inmate number was 99909-071, was released from jail on Christmas Eve, 2003. He was deported to the UK on 2nd June 2004. And it was from the UK that Russell subsequently travelled to the UAE and found work at DAMAC as a senior salesperson earlier this year. DAMAC’s chief executive, Peter Riddoch, said: “During the recruitment process we followed all of the normal procedures and obtained suitable references prior to the employment. “The moment we were aware of the situation, we gave the individual the opportunity to defend himself, which he didn’t do, therefore we had no alternative but to immediately dismiss him.” The company subsequently informed UAE immigration authorities of his dismissal. Russell is believed to be still residing in the UAE, although repeated attempts to contact him have proved unsuccessful. When CW contacted the British Embassy and Consulate in Dubai and Abu Dhabi earlier this week, officials said that Russell was not known to them.

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