ABU DHABI // A South African doctor detained on a decade-old manslaughter charge was yesterday cleared by the Criminal Court.
Dr Cyril Karabus, a paediatric haematologist and oncologist, was convicted in his absence of causing the death of a three-year-old leukaemia patient, while working in Abu Dhabi in 2002.
He was accused of causing the death of Yemeni girl Sara Al Ajaily by failing to give her a blood transfusion, and of covering it up by forging a medical report.
Authorities arrested Dr Karabus in August last year when he landed at Dubai International Airport in transit to South Africa from his son’s wedding in Canada.
In a retrial, the Criminal Court ruled he was not responsible for the child’s death, after the Higher Committee for Medical Liability found he was not negligent in her treatment.
He was also cleared of forgery.
“I feel fantastic. I met a lot of nice people here but I just want to go home now,” said Dr Karabus after the verdict.
His case has again cast light on the inefficiencies of the country’s medical liabilities laws, which health authorities are moving to fix.
Although cleared, Dr Karabus could remain in the UAE for up to two more weeks pending a prosecution appeal, said his lawyer.
“Once the committee said I was OK, I did expect it [the verdict],” the doctor said. “I am going to miss my children – my daughter is flying from London and my son from Canada – and my birthday on April 1.”
The trial was adjourned several times after prosecutors failed to produce the girl’s original hospital files from Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.
Key to the court’s decision was the fact that no post-mortem examination had been carried out on the girl’s body, court papers showed.
Dr Karabus was adamant he had given the girl a blood transfusion and that this resulted in an increase in her blood platelet levels.
But without the examination investigators could not confirm whether her death was caused by a lack of blood platelets or blocked arteries.
The court also ruled that blood-transfusion records were proof enough that Dr Karabus had taken the action he claimed.
It threw out the accusation he had doctored the hospital records, ruling that there were doubts over the validity of a report at his original trial, which contradicted itself over the colour of ink used in the allegedly forged document.
The court also noted that the original of the document was no longer available so there was no possibility of new tests.
When asked about the beard he has kept since being arrested, Dr Karabus was unsure about its fate.
“I’m not used to it but it doesn’t itch any more,” he said. “They took away my razor when I was in jail.”
The doctor, who suffered from a bad heart, was granted bail in October at the fifth application.
His plight prompted South Africa to send its deputy minister for international relations and cooperation, Marius Fransman, to the capital to plead for his case to be expedited.
“DIRCO [department of international relations and cooperation] is pleased to announce Prof Karabus has been found NOT guilty today in the UAE court. He is free,” tweeted Clayson Monyela, South Africa’s head of public diplomacy.
A judicial source said the case had gone on for so long because the former Higher Committee for Medical Liability resigned before the retrial, so the courts had to wait while a new committee was formed.
The source also said there was a “massive” amount of case files involved and the committee had other cases to examine. It could not give priority to Dr Karabus just because he was a professor.
As for the future, Dr Karabus said: “I think things should be all right but until I’m on that plane and flying through the air, I’m uncertain what the future will be.”