On her way out of the country, a Cayman Islands visitor — a “soccer mom,” no less — was arrested at the airport and forced to spend the night in police custody … over a disputed debt of $233.
That’s not exactly the kind of marketing tale that supports our tourism moniker, namely “Caymankind.”
We aren’t privy to all the details of the situation, but based on what we do know, the situation looks bad, and it makes our country appear petty, at best. (It is reminiscent of the public relations disaster that followed the now-famous Customs Department’s seizure of a wedding dress; only potentially worse.)
Here are the facts, as we understand them:
- Fuambai Ahmadu had an agreement to stay at a guest apartment in West Bay from Monday to Saturday last week, as she watched her son play football in the Cayman Airways Invitational Youth Cup.
- She either left or was evicted from the apartment on Wednesday, following a dispute with the apartment owner over the method of payment. The owner wanted cash up front; she wanted to pay by credit card or cash at the end of her stay.
- On Saturday at the airport, after she checked her bags and cleared security, she was approached by police officers.
- Ms. Ahmadu told police she had not paid for her stay. Officers gave her the option to pay right then and there — but she chose not to.
- Officers then arrested her. She spent the night in custody. She appeared in Summary Court on a charge of obtaining services by deception, which was dismissed after she handed over an envelope of cash through her lawyer to the prosecutor, who was acting as an intermediary for the apartment owner.
Now, we aren’t siding with Ms. Ahmadu or the apartment owner on the matter of the disputed debt. Our concern, rather, is with the arrest and confinement of Ms. Ahmadu by law enforcement (who, by the way, have a record of allowing people facing far more serious allegations to flee Cayman).
In Cayman, there are numerous bill collectors, law firms, and maybe even street toughs who specialize in collecting unpaid debts. Certainly we have no shortage of debtors on the island. Many, if not most, companies have long lists of aging receivables.
Which raises the question: Why should businesses go to all the trouble and expense of employing attorneys and bill collectors if they can just ring up the police and have the suspected debtors arrested — or, even more elegantly, have police or prosecutors simply demand the cash on the creditor’s behalf, under threat of imprisonment?
According to an official statement from police, “The status or position of a given person, and whether he or she may be a resident or visitor, is irrelevant as to whether circumstances such as these warrant an arrest.”
In that case, police may want to consider arresting every single resident who owes money to the public hospital system. It might put a dent in the estimated $80 million in unpaid bills and be a real boon to our treasury.
As importantly, it could lead to a massive boom in construction because of the sudden demand for thousands of new prison cells.