x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

9 months in jail, 3 years under house arrest, now allegations withdrawn

A former Nakheel employee charged with fraud over a failed Dh44m property deal has had the accusations against him withdrawn.

DUBAI //A man charged with fraud who spent nine months in jail and has been under house arrest for almost three years has had the accusations against him withdrawn.

ML is one of two former Nakheel employees being sued by the Australian property developer Sunland Group over a failed Dh44 million property deal.

He and MJ, both Australians, were arrested in January 2009 and charged with abuse of public funds, fraud, breach of trust and acquiring illegal profits and commissions.

They spent nine months in prison, including three in solitary confinement, before being placed under house arrest in October 2009.

But Sunland has now issued a letter retracting its claims against ML.

The three-page letter, presented to Dubai Criminal Court on April 15, was sent to ML's lawyer in Australia two days before closing arguments in their defence were to be presented - and three years and 31 court hearings after they were first charged.

The letter contained 13 points made by David Brown, chief operating officer for the Dubai arm of Sunland, saying ML was not involved in a 2007 deal involving the Dubai Waterfront project.

"The Sunland parties and Brown have no claim against ML," it said.

Mr Brown had originally told prosecutors that the two Australians deceived Sunland into buying a plot of land by saying it was owned by AR, another Australian involved in the case. After paying the Dh44m consultancy fee, Sunland said it learnt AR had no rights to the land.

AR, a director at Prudentia Investments, and AB, former head of legal affairs for Dubai Waterfront, fled the country and are being prosecuted in absentia.

The 23-page prosecution charge sheet accuses the four Australians of swindling Mr Brown.

Mr Brown's letter came after his admission to an Australian court - in a parallel civil lawsuit involving MJ - that he had misled prosecutors.

Information provided by Mr Brown is a key part of the Dubai prosecution case, but he told the supreme court of the state of Victoria that his original statements to Dubai prosecutors had been "incorrect".

He was accused of deliberately misleading the Dubai authorities to protect himself from possible prosecution.

The case was thrown out by Justice Croft of the Victorian supreme court, who said Mr Brown was not "a reliable or truthful witness".

The judgment said Mr Brown's "personal interests [including the fear of remaining the subject of investigation for bribery by the Dubai authorities], together with his and Sunland's commercial interests, coloured his statements and communications".

Since then, lawyers for MJ and ML have pleaded with Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister, to contact the UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, also the Ruler of Dubai, to lobby for their release.

But Ms Gillard's office told The Australian: "The government does not believe that contact … would be productive at the present time."

ML's wife said the couple had faced "so many hardships during the last three and a half years", including the loss of their family home.

"We just now hope that the judges will make the right decision based on all of the facts," she said.

The Dubai court's verdict will be delivered on July 15.

molson@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Awad Mustafa