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Action urged against illegal moneylenders.

A THIRD suspected debt-related suicide in Bahrain in less than a month has prompted calls for action against illegal loan sharks.

Gireesh Poyil, 39, was found dead in suspicious circumstances on Friday, after his wife received a text message from him saying he intended to take his life.

Relatives told the GDN they thought he was driven to suicide because he was unable to repay a BD3,000 loan from an illegal moneylender, who was charging interest of BD250 every month.

His death follows the suicide of Indian mechanic Pramu Sudheer, 41, who left a note saying he was facing massive debts before hanging himself on May 22.

On the same day the GDN reported that Bangladeshi labourer Joweel Islam Maqbol, 27, had also hanged himself and that the Bangladesh Embassy believed he did it because he owed money to his employer.

Social worker E P Anil, who represents an expatriate group called Prerna (Inspiration) Bahrain, said he believed action was needed to prevent unscrupulous loan sharks preying on the most vulnerable in society.

"Money lenders are, in a way, slaughtering many lives in Bahrain," Mr Anil told the GDN.

"We have been fighting this for five years now, following a series of such suicides in the past.

"Now with these suicides, which are reportedly related to heavy debts, I think it is time for all sides to act.

"These groups (loan sharks) will be all the more active, especially if subsidies are soon cancelled.

"It is unfortunate that moneylenders often belong to a higher level of society and have a good reputation among social activists and associations.

"First and foremost, at least to begin with, we need to make sure that such men are not allowed to be part of clubs and associations, as this is a social evil."

The GDN reported yesterday that the body of the latest victim, Mr Poyil, was bound from head to toe in rope and traces of pesticide were found in his mouth.

He is thought to have drowned himself, but the strange circumstances resulted in the Interior Ministry issuing a statement saying it was treating the death as suspicious.

The GDN reported in 2010 that Prerna Bahrain had set up a People's Forum Against Interest committee to raise awareness about illegal moneylenders, after a man vanished because he was so indebted to loan sharks.

Mr Anil said many low-income workers lacked awareness about the risks involved in borrowing money at exorbitant interest.

"Our association helps people trapped in such issues and talks with moneylenders, who take into custody their (borrowers') important documents like post-dated and signed blank cheques, ATM cards, CPRs and even passports -- and later blackmail them into paying much more than they owe them," he said.

"There are situations where they (lenders) threaten the debtor's family to get more money.

"In such cases we also help them (borrowers) fight the case legally with the Indian Embassy's help."

Indian Community Relief Fund (ICRF) chairman Bhagwan Asarpota confirmed the organisation was aware of loan sharks operating in Bahrain and urged victims to seek support from the Indian Embassy.

"We have limitations as individuals or as associations to intervene in this issue, but doing nothing is not an option," said Mr Asarpota. "Illegal money lending on heavy interest is worrisome and we urge community members and residents to notify the embassy if they have proof of this.

"Once the embassy has documents to back the claims, we are sure it will seriously address this issue."

Meanwhile, Indian Embassy first secretary Ram Singh said diplomats would raise awareness of the dangers of illegal moneylenders during meetings with low-paid workers.

"We will work with volunteer groups with the support of ICRF to visit labour camps to explain the dangers of this, as well as give them counselling if needed," he said.

raji@gdn.com.bh

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Geographic Code:7BAHR
Date:Jun 23, 2015
Words:655
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