x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Absent witness delays Dh14.4bn fraud case

Two Central Bank employees were due to present their testimony on Tuesday, but only one attended.

ABU DHABI // A fraud case involving an alleged attempt to withdraw Dh14.4 billion from the Central Bank has been adjourned again because a witness could not appear.

Two Central Bank employees were due to present their testimony on Tuesday, but only one attended. The other purportedly saw the defendants when they came to the bank with forged documents. The witness was said to be outside the UAE and was due to return next week.

Prosecutors insisted in a previous hearing that the court needed to hear the testimony of the witnesses, who they claimed would present new facts. One witness who did not see the defendants was tasked with assessing the risk of the presented documents, and testified they were "dangerous". He also said the attempt to withdraw the money would have harmed the national banking system.

"Had that attempt succeeded, it would have harmed the country's reputation," the witness said. "When such people get arrested and such documents are prevented from circulation, that would improve the reputation of the country and stabilise the banking system. But if such people succeed, that would lead to huge problems."

When the judge asked him if the defendants actually knew the documents were forged, the witness replied that there was enough evidence that they did.

N A, a naturalised American of Iranian descent, was charged with abetting in defrauding the Central Bank and forgery. Prosecutors say he went along with I K, an Iranian, to withdraw the money from the bank in April.

I K, who was charged with being an accomplice, denied attempting to withdraw the money, saying he only went to check if documents he received from another person were real. N A said he was merely serving as a translator. The men, who have been in prison since April, went on trial in June.

The defendants carried a power of attorney allowing them to withdraw the money on behalf of its owner, the witness said. He also cited a trip by one of the defendants from Iran to the Emirates as evidence he had malicious intent to make the withdrawal.

"He could have called the bank from Iran and enquired whether the funds really existed, or he could have contacted the UAE Embassy in Iran, which has a commercial attache, and confirmed with them whether the funds existed," the witness said.

The case was adjourned until January 11 to allow the absent witness to present his testimony. The two witnesses were due to testify last week, but they did not attend that hearing because of unspecified circumstances.

Last week, N A's wife told the judge that her husband decided to go on hunger strike to protest the court's refusal to grant him bail or hear his defence. She said the court had not provided any good reason for refusing bail.

It is not N A's first protest about the drawn-out proceedings. When Saeed Abdul Baseer, the chief justice, announced he was abandoning the case, N A screamed in the courtroom: "I have been in prison for seven months and no one has allowed me to say anything. No one asked me anything. They do not have any evidence against me, nothing."