Saturday, September 12, 2009
This article, from today's New York Times, is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it starts by discussing the use of harsh criminal penalties to change a culture of business corruption, with the usual consequences--many prosecutions needed to dislodge the practice.
Second, the main thrust of the article, about harsh criminal penalties for incurring debts that can't be paid back, illustrates the dangers of criminalizing conduct that comes too close to socially desirable behavior (ordinary business activity).
But best of all is the following story, which would make a nice exam question:
Consider the tale of Ali Fariq, a 33-year-old Iraqi real estate agent now serving a three-year jail term. Mr. Fariq says his ordeal in the Dubai legal system began last year when he was kidnapped and beaten by a diplomat who blamed him for an investment deal gone sour.
The diplomat, an Iraqi named Birhan al-Yacoubi, then forced Mr. Fariq — and later, his brother — to sign checks totaling $600,000, he said. She did not want the money; she knew they did not have it. Instead, she drove the men to a police station, where she presented the freshly signed checks as evidence of fraud, court records show.
The brothers, whose account is supported by police and hospital documents, were arrested, charged and convicted on several counts — one for each check.