Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Criminal Complaints

Everyone wishes to avoid having a criminal complaint filed against them. In Oman, however, such complaints can be hard to avoid.

It may be that a customer of yours has issued a cheque that bounces. Or it could be that someone has lodged a criminal complaint against you or one of your employees.

Indeed, expatriates are sometimes surprised how easy it is to become embroiled in a criminal complaint. People have been the subject of a criminal complaint in Oman when they have sworn at a co-worker, or chided a fellow motorist - this is because the Oman statute book includes a crime of "affronting one's dignity."

Criminal complaints typically follow a common process.

First, a criminal complaint is filed with the Royal Oman Police ("ROP"). The police then investigate the crime. Normally, within a few days, they will call the accused in for questioning, at which point it is advisable for the accused to have a lawyer. Often the passports of expatriates are confiscated at this point and fingerprints are taken. On the other hand, even when the alleged crime is quite serious (e.g., negligent driving leading to a death), those accused are known to have retained their passport right up to the final judgment in the Criminal Court. Needless to say, this arbitrariness can be avoided by guidelines to authorities on confiscation of a defendant’s passport.

If the police conclude that there is a case to answer, they file a report with the Public Prosecutor. Meetings with the Public Prosecutor may follow. If the Public Prosecutor decides the accused should be put on trial, the case moves to the Criminal Court.

Time frames depend on the nature of the alleged crime, but proceedings can move very fast. We have seen cases move from complaint to final criminal court judgment within six months.

One cannot ignore the fact that sometimes spurious criminal complaints are lodged against expatriate employees to exert commercial pressure on foreign entities. This typically is seen in a foreign principal-Omani agent scenario, in which the principal has seconded an employee to work with the agent. At a later date, the principal desires to terminate the agent. This leaves the principal's employee, who is in Oman under the sponsorship of the Omani agent, vulnerable to a potential criminal complaint of some nature. This may take the form of the agent saying that the employee is not keeping confidential such documentation which traditionally the employee had always shared with his "head office" (i.e., with the principal's overseas headquarters).

In short, we recommend you always seek legal advice in any matters pertaining to alleged crimes.