x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Ex-minister stands trial in Dubai

Former minister of State stands trial for betrayal of trust related to charges of deceitfully acquiring company.

DUBAI // A former minister of state threatened to throw a woman into the sea if she did not sign over most of her late brother's IT company, the Dubai Misdemeanours Court was told yesterday. The former UAE Government minister - who worked with the late Lebanese man at the centre of the case - together with his son and two company managers are charged with betrayal of trust and unlawfully taking possession of money and property. In evidence yesterday lasting more than two hours, the late businessman's sister, MJ, said the former minister and the former manager of her brother's company, SH, deceived and bullied her into signing a settlement agreement after her brother's death. In the 2005 agreement MJ, who had a power of attorney over her brother's affairs, handed total control of the company's UAE operations and projects to the former minister in exchange for retaining the company's overseas operations and projects. She gave up the company to save it and the jobs of 350 employees. "They [the former minister and SH] had stopped paying salaries and expenses for the company's overseas branches," said MJ. "Employees were telling me their livelihoods were at stake, contracts the company's overseas branches had signed with several governments abroad were also at stake." She was prompted to file a civil suit against the former minister three years later, after discovering a signed document in her late brother's home safe dated 1998. It showed that the former minister was a salaried employee at the company - not a business partner - who was paid Dh600,000 (US$160,000) annually to affix his signature to the company's trade licence. "When I told him of this document [the former minister] told me that 'it's an old and useless paper' and refused to discuss it," said MJ. "That's when I was locked out of the company premises." She said employees were told not to speak to or co-operate with her and local banks refused to recognise her power of attorney. Instead, they deferred to the former minister as the sole authority at the company. "The manager of the company's US office in a telephone call told me that [he former minister] said he would throw me into the sea that he would demolish the whole company and that I would face imprisonment if I did not co-operate," said MJ. The former minister would also threaten her, said MJ, by saying that he was an Emirati and everything would be done his way. Later she discovered a Dh1.6 million (US$435,623) property her brother owned in Dubai which, she claims, was concealed from her. The lawyer for the defence, Sameer Jaafar, yesterday challenged the civil claimant's legal right to call witnesses in a criminal prosecution. In questions put to MJ, Mr Jaafar tried to establish that since her late brother's company did not own his property in Dubai, it was not concealed from her. The trial continues on Nov 24. hbathish@thenational.ae