Al Manama supermarket shuts
A screenshot of the website of UAE-based Al Manama supermarket that has shut down.

An Indian supermarket chain in the UAE has shut down without notice after its owner allegedly fled the country leaving in the lurch hundreds of employees and suppliers, media reports say.

The Emirati sponsor, suppliers, and employees of Ajman-headquartered Al Manama Group have alleged that managing director of the group Abdul Khadar Sabeer left the UAE two months ago with millions of dirhams unpaid in salaries and other dues, a report in Dubai-based Gulf News said.

When the newspaper contacted Hamad Al Matroushi, the local sponsor, said the group run by Sabeer, hailing from the South Indian state of Kerala, has gone bankrupt and Sabeer has fled the country.

"I was never a signatory to the bank cheques. I have never been part of the operations. He has left the UAE illegally after he got into financial issues. He owes millions to the banks also. I also have a Dh3.5-million cheque from him," the newspaper quoted Matroushi as saying.

There have been some instances of business establishments abruptly closing down and the promoters fleeing the country. A major part of the staff of such labour-intensive establishments are Indians and many face a bleak future having paid agents a hefty sum to reach the UAE and find employment.

Al Manama group that has more than 20 supermarkets and hypermarkets in all emirates of the UAE except Abu Dhabi shut down most of the branches by this month after the head office was closed down by November end, the employees said.

A group of around three dozen suppliers told the media that the 40-year-old company, which never had any previous history of dud cheques or delayed payments, got into trouble in the past few months, the newspaper reported.

A sales manager of a supplier said that the supermarket chain started delaying payments from a few months back. "Nobody distrusted them because they had been in the business for 40 years," he said.

Stanley Rodrigues, general manager of Datar and Sons Limited, told the media many suppliers were told they would get paid by November end. But they realized something was amiss by November 25. When some suppliers went to the headquarters they found it closed. the report said.

Since then, everybody lost contact with the management.

Some suppliers whose cheques had bounced have filed police complaints. But many suppliers have only copies of the invoices they had issued.

Matroushi has claimed that he has settled the end-of-service payments of about 600 employees though he was not obliged to do so. "There are about 1,300-1,400 employees. Most of them were not paid for three months. Out of my goodwill, I have settled all the payments of around 600 of them."

A manager of the supermarket chain said hundreds of employees are facing a bleak future in the main labour accommodation of the group in Ajman.