x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Main witness lied in Dh44m fraud case

The key prosecution witness in the Sunland fraud trial lied in UAE courts, testimony in Australia says.

DUBAI // The main witness against two former Nakheel employees in a Dh44 million corruption case has admitted he lied to prosecutors.

David Brown, the chief operating officer for the Dubai arm of the Australian property developer Sunland Group, made the admission last week in a Melbourne court where he was testifying in Sunland's civil lawsuit for fraud in the same case.

Mr Brown's admission was read out yesterday by a defence lawyer in Dubai Criminal Court, where two Australians, MJ and ML, are charged with the abuse of public funds, fraud, breach of trust and acquiring illegal profits and commissions in a 2007 property deal.

Two other Australians - AB, a former head of legal affairs for the Dubai Waterfront development project, and AR, a director of Prudentia Investments - are being prosecuted in their absence.

Sunland says it was deceived by MJ and ML into buying a plot of land in the Waterfront by leading them to believe AR owned it.

After paying a consultancy fee of Dh44m to them, Sunland learnt that AR had no rights to the land.

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

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

ML is not party to the case in Australia. MJ's defence lawyer in Australia, Patrick Collinson, asked Mr Brown during cross-examination why he inserted false statements into his brief for Dubai prosecutors, "all of which are highly damaging [to MJ]".

"I can't explain that … I was trying to recall the facts as I remembered them," Mr Brown replied.

Mr Collinson suggested he was "twisting the facts" in his original statements to avoid a bribery charge and a possible jail sentence.

Mr Brown admitted he never tried to correct his original version of events, despite knowing it was wrong and that people had been sent to jail because of it.

He agreed the inaccuracies could "severely impact those that were incarcerated and those that were charged in Dubai".

MJ and ML were arrested on January 25, 2009. They spent nine months in prison, including three months in solitary confinement, before being placed under house arrest in October 2009.

Salim Al Shaali, the lawyer representing MJ, read out Mr Brown's evidence in court in Dubai yesterday.

The presiding Judge El Saeed Bargouth listened to the full statement before ordering the court into recess to review the claims.

Sunland filed its civil action in Melbourne against MJ and AR in 2009. Its managing director, Soheil Abedian, will give evidence in the lawsuit this week.

Mr Al Shaali has asked the Dubai court to admit Mr Brown's Australian court statement into evidence, along with Mr Abedian's evidence this week.

He also asked for six more witnesses to be called, including Jeff Austin, the city relations manager for Nakheel, the developer owned by the Dubai Government conglomerate Dubai World.

The court adjourned the hearing until January 29.

Yesterday's hearing was the 27th in the case. Many earlier ones were adjourned because witnesses failed to appear.

amustafa@thenational.ae

molson@thenational.ae