What’s the difference between blackmail and extortion?

In this article, we will examine the primary difference between the crimes of ‘extortion’ and ‘blackmail’. Often these crimes are easily confused together. We will also discuss the definition of the said crimes under UAE law and the relevant legal provisions relating to them.

‘Extortion’ can be defined as a ‘theft crime’. It involves the use of coercion of some form, either a physical force or a threat of some other type to the person or property, in order to obtain from the victim any money, property, other valuables or services.

‘Blackmail’ is also very similar to extortion. However, this crime does not include the factors of threat to the victim’s person or property; and instead, the threat is of different nature, such as threatening to disclose embarrassing information about someone that may potentially damage their reputation or affect their personal relations. The important factor considering blackmail is that the threat in itself does not need to be illegal or even true in order for it to be considered as blackmail. The objective of such an act is to obtain from the victim, money or other favors by imposing such a threat.

UAE laws:

Extortion under the UAE laws is governed pursuant to the provisions of the Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 promulgating the penal code and its amendments (‘UAE penal code’). Pursuant to articles 397 and 398 of the UAE penal code, the crime of extortion is said to occur when a person uses force or threat to compel another person to deliver money or other valuables or to sign any document etc.

When considering blackmail, pursuant to the provisions of the UAE penal code, Article 398 states that if the threat caused to a person concerns divulging or attributing any immoral act to them, then such crimes would be considered as an aggravating circumstance and thus a higher penalty will be imposed.

Cyber extortion and blackmailing:

Pursuant to the Federal decree-law no. 5 of 2012 on ‘combating cybercrimes’ and its amendments, an act of extortion or blackmail constitutes a punishable offense under the said law, if such act is committed using a computer network or information technology means to extort or threaten another person (Article 16). The punishment can include imprisonment of up to two years and fines ranging from Dirhams 250,000 to 500,000. Deportation may also be imposed if the crime is committed by a foreigner.

Article 16: Shall be punished by imprisonment for a period of two years at most and a fine, not less than two hundred fifty-thousand dirhams and not in excess of five hundred thousand dirhams or either of these two penalties whoever uses a computer network or information technology means to extort or threaten another person to force him to engage in or prevent him from engaging in a certain act. The punishment shall be imprisonment up to ten years if the subject of threat is to commit a felony or engage in matters against honour or morals.

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