The Emirati host of an "Apprentice"-style reality show and former owner of cash-strapped Premier League team Portsmouth said Wednesday he plans to cut short an overseas trip to clear his name amid reports he is wanted in Dubai over an unresolved property dispute.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Sulaiman al-Fahim said he is in Moscow representing the United Arab Emirates chess federation but plans to return home by week's end.
"Just to clear the rumors, I'm going to go back to Dubai," al-Fahim said by phone.
Abu Dhabi's The National newspaper carried a prominent front-page story Wednesday saying a Dubai court had issued a warrant for al-Fahim's arrest because of an unpaid debt stemming from a real estate deal gone sour.
Al-Fahim dismissed the report as "nonsense." He said he is not worried he might be arrested upon his return to the Emirates.
"This is my home country," he said, adding that if authorities had wanted to find him abroad, they knew where he was given his involvement with the Russian chess event. "I am here on an official trip," he said.
The National reported that a warrant was issued for the arrest of the self-styled property tycoon last week. Al-Fahim was wanted because he had failed to pay a debt of more than $2.2 million to an Azerbaijani investor involved in a property dispute, according to the newspaper.
A spokesman for Dubai courts, Marwan Abdool, said he was unable to comment on the case. Another court official who was granted anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media said an arrest warrant was issued on Feb. 10 but canceled Wednesday. He said al-Fahim has one month to clear the debt.
Under Dubai law, debtors can face jail time if they are unable to pay what they owe.
Al-Fahim said he has yet to receive any official order to pay the debt, and only learned of the ruling Tuesday night. He stressed that the case involved a civil, not criminal, dispute and was not unusual.
"As a developer we have cases on a daily basis. Some you win, some you lose," he said. "I have full faith in the UAE courts."
Al-Fahim gained attention in the Arab world as a flamboyant real estate mogul and host of a reality show dubbed "Hydra Executives" set in Abu Dhabi. The series was modeled on Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" and pitted American and British entrepreneurs fighting for a chance to work at a property company al-Fahim used to lead.
He became well-known in Britain as the public face of an Abu Dhabi ruling family member's acquisition of Premier League club Manchester City, and later as the buyer of another English team, Portsmouth.
Al-Fahim's ownership of Portsmouth lasted less than six weeks, however, after he failed to refinance the club and pay players' wages on time. The team has been through a series of owners and is fighting to avoid becoming the first Premier League club to go out of business.