x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

One Australian jailed, one freed in Dh44 million Dubai Waterfront fraud case

Australian Marcus Lee, a former Nakheel employee, has been acquitted of all charges related to a fraud case that has dragged on for four years.

A former employee of Nakheel, Marcus Lee, has been cleared of all charges related to a collapsed Dh44 million property deal. Jeff Topping/The National
A former employee of Nakheel, Marcus Lee, has been cleared of all charges related to a collapsed Dh44 million property deal. Jeff Topping/The National

DUBAI // Two men were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and another two were acquitted today when a complex Dh44 ?million theft and fraud case centred on the Dubai Waterfront project reached a final verdict after four years of legal wrangling.

One of the men cleared, Marcus Lee, has been detained in Dubai since 2009. He and his wife Julie said they were "extremely happy" with today's verdict and looked forward to returning to their home in Sydney, Australia.

The other man cleared, Anthony Brearley, had already fled the country.

The two men convicted, Matthew Joyce and Angus Reed, were each sentenced to 10 years in jail and jointly ordered to repay the Dh44m at the centre of the case. Reed is at his home in Melbourne and was sentenced in his absence. Joyce will serve his sentence in Dubai.

For Mr Lee, the decision marked the end of a battle to clear his name that has lasted four years, three months and 25 days.

In a joint statement today, he and his wife said: "We are overwhelmed with this finding. It has been more than four years since this commenced and we are very grateful that the courts have uncovered the truth and we can now move forward.

"It has been personally a very difficult period in our lives, particularly being away from our families in Australia, who have also suffered personally and financially.

"We are looking forward to seeing our families again and restarting our lives. We thank all those who have supported us and believed in us."

The couple have been unable to leave Dubai since 2009 because of bail conditions and the time in legal limbo has taken its toll both financially and emotionally.

Mr Lee's father, stepfather and grandmother all died while he has been under house arrest and neither he or his wife were able to attend their funerals.

Since he was arrested, Mr Lee has faced more than 40 hearings before Dubai Criminal Court, and has run up a crippling legal bill.

The four men, all Australian, were accused of theft and fraud involving a plot of land in the Dubai Waterfront project.

Mr Lee, 44, and Joyce, both former Nakheel employees, were sued by the Australian Gold Coast property developer Sunland Group. They were arrested in Dubai 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 three different prisons before being placed under house arrest in October of that year.

A Sunland executive, David Brown, accused Joyce and Reed of fraudulently claiming that Reed's company, Prudentia, had the rights to develop the plot of land, called D17.

Mr Brown said they persuaded him to pay a "consultancy fee" – the Dh44m – to Prudentia so Sunland could buy the plot from Nakheel. Mr Brown accused all four men of being part of the swindle.

In November last year the court referred the case for review by an expert committee, which last month exonerated Mr Lee. He was formally acquitted today.

The court ruled that he obtained no financial benefit and had simply been doing his job as director of commercial operations. It found that Reed's company and Joyce had split the money made from the deal.

The acquittals follows an admission this year by the chairman of Sunland, Soheil Abedian, that his company's allegations against Mr Lee were untrue and it had no case against him.

"We are delighted with this decision, as it is the right and just decision," said Mr Lee's lawyer Ali Al Shamsi, of the Dubai law firm Al Shamsi and Partners.

"There was no evidence ever of any wrongdoing by Marcus as he was simply doing his job, and as instructed by his employer, Nakheel."

Mr Lee's Australian lawyer, John Sneddon, called it a wonderful outcome. "It's been four long years," he said.  "It will be a great day when I'm able to greet Marcus and Julie when they arrive back in Australia."

Australian media yesterday reported that Joyce, a father-of-three, was shocked and devastated by the verdict.

"My family and I are still coming to terms with it," he said. "I will, of course, appeal against this decision. I am innocent of the charges against me."

The Sunland Group gave a brief statement on its website acknowledging the result of the proceedings.

jbell@thenational.ae

salamir@thenational.ae