24 May 2024

Dhruv Jose

In a landmark decision, the Dubai Appeals Court (appeal no. 27/2024) upheld a ruling awarding punitive damages in a cryptocurrency embezzlement case marking a significant moment in the legal landscape of digital assets in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This ruling underscores the judiciary's stance on financial crimes in the digital currency space, demonstrating the interaction between criminal and civil liabilities.

Dubai: This ruling not only underscores the UAE's commitment to protecting investments in digital currencies but also sets a precedent for how similar cases might be treated in the future. This article explores the legal background of the case, the court's decision, and its implications for cryptocurrency regulation and investor protection in Dubai.

Legal Background of Cryptocurrency in the UAE

The UAE has been at the forefront of cryptocurrency adoption and regulation, with Dubai positioning itself as a hub for blockchain and financial technology. The legal framework governing cryptocurrencies in Dubai is still evolving, but several key legislations and regulatory bodies play a crucial role in overseeing the sector:

Regulatory Framework:

The Virtual Asset regulatory Authority (VARA), the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) and the Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA) have been instrumental in developing regulations that address various aspects of cryptocurrency operations, including anti-money laundering (AML) practices, cybersecurity measures, and consumer protection.

Crypto Regulations:

In recent years, Dubai has introduced more specific regulations aimed at managing the risks associated with digital assets and ensuring a stable financial and economic environment. These regulations focus on licensing, compliance, and monitoring of crypto-related activities.

Case Overview

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit claiming the defendant embezzled AED 200,000 intended for cryptocurrency transactions. The defendant had already faced criminal proceedings for the same act, resulting in a fine. Despite this, the plaintiff sought additional compensation for the financial loss incurred.

Court Proceedings

Criminal Court Proceedings:

  • The defendant was tried in a criminal court for embezzling AED 200,000.
  • The court found the defendant guilty, imposing a fine of AED 20,000 and ordering the defendant to pay the embezzled amount as restitution.

Civil Court Proceedings:

  • The plaintiff then pursued civil litigation to recover the financial loss.
  • The Court of First Instance ruled in favor of the plaintiff, ordering the defendant to pay AED 200,000 with 5% annual interest from the date of demand until full payment.
  • The defendant was also ordered to cover legal expenses and attorney fees.

Appeal Court Proceedings:

  • The defendant appealed the civil court’s decision on several grounds, including double jeopardy, lack of jurisdiction, and insufficient evidence.
  • The Dubai Appeals Court examined the arguments presented by both parties.

Arguments and Ruling

Defendant’s Arguments:

  • The defendant argued that the criminal court’s judgment, which included a directive to pay the embezzled amount, precluded further civil liability on the same grounds, invoking the principle of ne bis in idem (not being judged twice for the same act).
  • The defendant also contested the civil court’s jurisdiction and argued that the plaintiff’s evidence was insufficient to warrant the claimed damages.

Plaintiff’s Defense:

  • The plaintiff maintained that the criminal penalty did not negate the right to civil compensation for the loss suffered.
  • The plaintiff highlighted the jurisdiction of civil courts to adjudicate financial disputes and presented the criminal court’s judgment as evidence of the defendant’s liability.

Court Ruling:

  • The Dubai Appeals Court rejected the defendant’s arguments and upheld the Civil Court of First Instance’s judgment.
  • The court clarified that the criminal court’s ruling imposed a penalty for the criminal act, while the civil court’s judgment aimed at compensating the plaintiff for the financial loss.
  • The court found the civil lawsuit valid, emphasizing that the punitive damages awarded were distinct from the criminal fines and served to compensate the plaintiff adequately.

Significance for Cryptocurrency Scams

This ruling highlights the Dubai judiciary’s serious approach to financial crimes, particularly in the emerging field of cryptocurrencies. By distinguishing between criminal penalties and civil compensations, the court affirms that victims of cryptocurrency scams have a clear path to recovery beyond criminal proceedings. This case sets a precedent for handling similar disputes in the future, indicating that the legal system is equipped to address the complexities associated with digital currency fraud. It sends a strong message about the consequences of engaging in cryptocurrency embezzlement, reinforcing the importance of integrity in digital financial transactions.

The Dubai Appeals Court upheld the initial ruling, emphasizing several key points in its judgment:

Recognition of Cryptocurrency as Property:

The court treated the cryptocurrency similar to physical or traditional assets, affirming that digital assets are subject to ownership rights that can be violated through criminal actions such as embezzlement.

Legal Protection of Digital Assets:

The ruling reinforced that individuals and entities dealing in cryptocurrencies have legal protections similar to those involved in transactions with more traditional forms of property. This aspect of the judgment is crucial as it provides a clear indication that the legal system in Dubai recognizes and protects the property rights associated with digital assets.

Compensatory Damages:

The court confirmed that compensatory damages in cases of cryptocurrency embezzlement should reflect the market value of the assets at the time of the crime. This approach ensures that victims are fully compensated for their losses and serves as a deterrent against the misuse of cryptocurrencies.

Implications for the Future

·        Legal Precedent: This ruling sets a significant legal precedent, affirming the applicability of traditional legal principles such as property rights and compensatory damages to the realm of digital currencies.

·        Regulatory Impact: The decision may influence future regulations concerning digital assets in Dubai and potentially in other jurisdictions within the UAE. Regulatory bodies might introduce more detailed guidelines on the management, transfer, and protection of cryptocurrencies.

Investor Confidence:

By upholding the rights of cryptocurrency owners and investors, the ruling is likely to boost investor confidence, which is crucial for the continued growth and stability of the digital asset market in Dubai.

In Conclusion

The Dubai Appeals Court’s decision to uphold compensatory damages for cryptocurrency embezzlement is a watershed moment in the legal treatment of digital assets in the UAE. It reflects the maturity and adaptability of the Emirati legal system to new economic realities brought about by technological advancement. For investors and stakeholders in the cryptocurrency market, this ruling offers reassurance that the legal framework in Dubai is equipped to protect their interests and foster a secure and thriving digital asset environment.

As the legal landscape continues to evolve, the principles laid down in this case will likely guide future judicial and regulatory approaches to digital asset management and protection.


Our team of professionals can guide you in the best way to file your criminal and civil complaints and can offer valuable insights into the opportunities and challenges presented by the new regulatory landscape. Our guidance supports you in selecting the best structure to regain your rights and compensation whether via criminal or civil way. Let us know if any wrongdoing has happened so we take the matter forward!

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