x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Accused trafficker collapses as life sentence reduced to 2 years

Man was one of 10 who were acquitted or had jail terms cut

ABU DHABI // A man convicted of human trafficking collapsed in the appeals court yesterday when a judge overturned his conviction and reduced his life sentence to two years on a lesser charge.

AK had to be helped out of the courtroom by police, and later left the building in tears.

He was one of 10 Syrians who were acquitted or had their sentences slashed after Abu Dhabi Appeals Court threw out the evidence used to convict them.

AK, AI, SS and MI had been sentenced to life by two previous courts for trafficking 18 Moroccan women to Abu Dhabi for prostitution. KA, ND, and MA, a woman, had been jailed for 10 years each for human trafficking. FS, HM and SA had been given lesser sentences and fines.

They were all arrested in November 2009 after one of the women they were accused of trafficking fled to Ras Al Khaimah and reported them.

The appeals court accepted the defence's claim that the women involved had not been trafficked, but were in the UAE of their own free will.

The defence presented a report from the Interior Ministry showing that several of the women had travelled on their own passports a number of times after their alleged trafficking, and had been sending money home to their families. All the women have since left the UAE.

In addition, the prosecution failed to present to the appeals court a key email mentioned - but not seen - in the original trial.

The email was said to be from AK and to contain photos of the trafficked women along with copies of their passports, allowing the gang to process their visas.

The appeals court also heard that the woman said to be the main victim had sent a text message to SS four days before the arrests threatening to "scandalise" him if he did not pay her.

Yesterday AK, AI, SS and MI were cleared of human trafficking and convicted instead of the lesser offence of benefiting from prostitution. They were each sentenced to two years' jail followed by deportation.

FS, HM and SA were also convicted of gaining from prostitution, sentenced to a year in jail and fined Dh5,000. They will be freed having already served their time, but will remain under police surveillance for a year.

KA, ND and MA were also acquitted of human trafficking. KA was sentenced to three months for possessing alcohol, but will also be freed because of time served.

The verdict is subject to one final appeal, at the Court of Cassation.

hdajani@thenational.ae