British spy Matthew Hedges pardoned by UAE government
Special report: The curious case of Matthew Hedges
A British national convicted of spying on the UAE admitted to being an MI6 intelligence officer tasked with gathering sensitive information on government companies and the royal family.
Matthew Hedges made the admission in a video shown to foreign and local journalists in Abu Dhabi on Monday, on the same day he was given a pardon by the President, Sheikh Khalifa.
The undated footage shown to journalists appeared to be from the investigation after his arrest at Dubai International Airport in May.
The 31-year-old's imminent release follows his sentence to life in prison last week at a federal court and comes amid a tense diplomatic stand-off between the UK and the UAE.
The footage showed Hedges admitting to being an "active officer" for MI6 – Britain's foreign intelligence service.
“I have an active field role at MI6,” he said in the video, in which he appeared relaxed while speaking to investigators.
“I approach them as Matthew Hedges the PhD student and when I get the information it becomes MI6,” he said, snapping his fingers.
Hedges goes on to say that he gathered information not from the “top” but from senior officials, and gave the example of a government-owned company.
“What new technologies are they looking into? What do they see as a security threat? And then there is the military, of course."
When asked what his role is in MI6, a civilian agency with no military ranks, he replies "captain", without further explanation.
Jaber Al Lamki, an official from the country's National Media Council, read out a statement that detailed how Hedges worked for a private security research company and how that work led to his recruitment by MI6.
Hedges was tasked with finding out how senior Emiratis in government-linked companies rated various security threats, he said.
Mr Al Lamki went on to say that Hedges “had sought information on the ruling families and their networks” and was seeking “to gather classified information on the UAE military and political role in Yemen”.
He added: “In any country, these are considered serious threats to the national security just as they are in the UAE.
"The information Mr Hedges collected went far beyond standard academic practice. In fact, Mr Hedges took advantage of the openness granted to academic researchers in this country.
“During the investigation, it emerged Hedges has been using two different identities to gather information from his targets. In one, he was Matthew Hedges the PhD researcher; in another one, he was a businessman."
A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the family of Hedges "appealed for clemency in a personal letter to President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
"The Ministry of Presidential Affairs has subsequently announced that a Presidential Pardon has been issued with immediate effect," it said.
"Mr Hedges will be permitted to leave the UAE once formalities are completed."
Officials also responded to claims that Hedges had been denied proper access to his wife and embassy officials, saying he made 27 phone calls during his six months in detention. They also clarified that there were four hearings including Hedges' sentencing last Wednesday. All were held behind closed doors due to the sensitivity of the evidence, Mr Al Lamki said.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt welcomed the news, saying that while the British government did not agree with the conviction, he was pleased Hedges would walk free.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said that the "clemency in the customary National Day pardons allows us to return our focus to the underlying fundamental strength of the UAE/UK bi-lateral relationship and its importance to the international community".
"It was always a UAE hope that this matter would be resolved through the common channels of our longstanding partnership," he said.
"This was a straightforward matter that became unnecessarily complex, despite the UAE’s best efforts."
Last Thursday, Abdullah Al Naqbi, head of the department of legal affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the evidence presented in court against Hedges was "powerful and compelling".
Hedges, a student at Durham University in the UK, was convicted by the Federal Court of Appeal on Wednesday for attempting to procure sensitive information during a trip to the UAE this year.
The case became a political issue in the UK, with Prime Minister Theresa May and Mr Hunt making Hedges' situation a matter for diplomatic relations.
"The UAE is determined to protect its important strategic relationship with a key ally," Mr Al Naqbi said. "Officials from both countries have discussed the matter regularly over recent months. Both sides hope to find an amicable solution to the Matthew Hedges case."
Daniela Tejada, Hedges' wife, said: “The family and I welcome the news of the presidential pardon and cannot wait to have Matt back home.”