As a bit of background, alcohol can be legally purchased in hotel bars and restaurants in Dubai/Abu Dhabi but it must be consumed on the premises. If you're a resident, you can purchase alcohol and keep it at your home if you (a) are non-Muslim, and (b) hold a liquour licence issued by the Police (form to fill out, AED160 to pay). Once you have your licence you can then go along to a branch of the two authorised alcohol retailers to make your purchases.
The two companies, A&E (African & Eastern) or MMI (Maritime Mercantile International), have branches throughout Dubai hidden descretely behind unmarked doors. Interestingly MMI is a subsidiary of the Emirates Group.
Now this is all very fine but both A&E and MMI charge 30% tax on the alcohol they sell. To get around this there are a couple of places in another Emirate, where expat shoppers can buy alcohol without paying tax, thus making it a lot cheaper than buying from the authorised suppliers in Dubai and AD. The main "Hole in the Wall" (HITW) at the Barracuda Beach Resort is hardly a "hole" but a large well stocked off-licence with a wide selection of wine, beers and spirits from all over the world including the infamous Indian whiskey. The off-licence is attached to a hotel/resort (they do a really nice curry in the main dining room). On Fridays and Saturdays, the HITW is Expat Central and you're sure to meet someone you know pushing their trolley loaded with fine supplies in maybe the arak department or the Jordanian wine display.
Rumours started circulating several years ago of expats who had been tailed after leaving the HITW and making their way back to Dubai through the Emirate of Sharjah. Sharjah is 'dry', no alcohol anywhere, any time, and transporting alcohol through that emirate, even if its just one bottle of wine, is illegal. The rumours tell of the expat car being bumped by the tailing car, the occupants of which then demand money in exchange for not calling the police to arrest the expat for transporting illegal alcohol. Often the expat is escorted to the nearest ATM to withdraw the maximum amount available. I thought these stories might be urban legend until we received a call from a friend who'd just been on the receiving end of what I've just described. He was shocked and also AED3,000 poorer as that was all he had in his account.
Since then accounts of the "Barracuda Bandits" have started appearing in the Dubai press, these two stories from 7 Days:
Tuesday 12 May, 2009 from David Carter
Last week I happened to be in Umm Al Quwain for some business during the day. Part of the work involved a meeting with the client, who happened to be at one of the famous resorts in Umm Al Quwain.
As I headed back to Dubai, I noticed I was being followed by a grey Honda Accord with two lads in national dress in it.As we entered Sharjah, the traffic built up and I slowed down. The grey Honda came up behind me and nudged my car, resulting in some scratches. We pulled over to the side of the road and the two lads proceeded to accuse me of being drunk, telling me that the cops would arrest me.
Since I hadn’t touched a drink, I was more than willing to get the cops involved. Then they started to accuse me of transporting alcohol.Again untrue. The lads demanded they search my car. I refused saying that let the cops get here and if the police needed to, they could search my car. Finally the lads came to the point, asking me for dhs1,500 for them not to get the cops involved.
By this point I had had it and called the cops myself. As soon as I had done this, the two lads jumped in their car and sped off.
When the police arrived I told them the whole story and gave them the number plate of the Honda. My advice to all people returning from Umm Al Quwain, is to not fear these blackmailers. Do not let them search your car. Call the cops and of course, never drink and drive.
Sunday 17 May, 2009 from "Ben"
I too almost became a victim of the ‘Barracuda HWY Bandits’.They were waiting for me at one of the roundabouts on the road between Emirates road and the coast road in a black 90’s model Lexus with scratches and dents all over its bumpers.
As I entered the roundabout (well stocked with fine beverages), they also entered and almost touched my bumper. The driver then started flashing his lights at me and pulled in front of my car trying to make me stop. Knowing what was happening and being in a much bigger Land Cruiser, I ignored him and put my foot on the gas. He then gave up and turned around at the next roundabout to go back for the next victim. I agree with Cliff, that the staff or someone at the Barracuda is calling ahead to let these bandits know which cars to target.
My advice to anyone who finds themselves in this situation is, do not stop, even if they touch your car. Drive to a police station in Dubai if you are worried about insurance etc. (just drop your cargo off first).