x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Former Nakheel employee says the torment is over after acquittal in fraud case is upheld

A former Nakheel executive accused of trying to pocket Dh44 million by fraudulently selling a piece of the collapsed Dubai Waterfront project has today had his acquittal upheld.

Marcus Lee was acquitted of the Dh44million theft and fraud case centred on the Dubai Waterfront project today after four years under house arrest in Dubai. Here he is pictured with his wife, Julie Lee.Courtesy Julie Lee
Marcus Lee was acquitted of the Dh44million theft and fraud case centred on the Dubai Waterfront project today after four years under house arrest in Dubai. Here he is pictured with his wife, Julie Lee.Courtesy Julie Lee

DUBAI // A former Nakheel executive accused of trying to pocket Dh44 million by fraudulently selling a piece of the collapsed Dubai Waterfront project has had his acquittal upheld.

Marcus Lee, 44, spent nine months in prison and more than four years under house arrest fighting the allegations. He was cleared of all charges in May but public prosecutors launched a last-minute appeal, which the Appeals Court finally rejected on Sunday.

Mr Lee said he and his wife Julie were relieved at the verdict and were looking forward to returning to their home in Sydney, Australia, to see their family in time for Christmas.

“My wife and I, and our families, have suffered for near to five years after I was recruited from Australia, accepting a position at Nakheel, and I was unjustly included in this case,” he said.

“Because of this we have lost everything we have ever worked for, our health has suffered immensely and my professional career has been compromised to the point I fear I will now struggle to find employment again, despite being entirely cleared of any wrongdoing.”

Mr Lee said he will now be asking his Dubai and Australian lawyers to look at possible legal action against the complainants in the complex legal case.

“It has now been conclusively found, and even admitted to, that they made false allegations about me to the Dubai authorities.”

Mrs Lee, who had to surrender her passport to secure her husband’s bail, said she was delighted at the decision.

“It has been so difficult to watch my husband endure this for such a long time,” she said. “It is a testament to Marcus’s strong character that he has survived and we have finally and unequivocally cleared his name.

“We are looking forward to being able to see our families again and to be able to be with our families for Christmas. This will be a great present for everyone.”

Mr Lee was one of two former Nakheel employees accused of fraud by the Australian property developer Sunland Group over the collapsed Dubai Waterfront property deal.

He and another Australian, Matthew Joyce, 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.

Sunland’s head in Dubai, David Brown, accused Joyce and an Australian businessman, Angus 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.

Sunland has since admitted that there was no truth in the allegations against Mr Lee. Courts in Australia have ruled that Mr Brown is an unreliable witness, that Sunland’s behaviour has been “vexatious” and “oppressive” and that its pursuit of the case was “hopeless” with “no chance of success”.

After more than 40 hearings before Dubai Criminal Court, Mr Lee was eventually cleared of all charges in May.

The court ruled that he obtained no financial benefit and had simply been doing his job as director of commercial operations.

However, prosecutors appealed against the acquittal.

Finally, this morning, Mr Lee had his acquittal upheld by the Appeals Court.

Joyce and Reed were each sentenced to 10 years in jail this year and jointly ordered to repay the Dh44m at the centre of the case.

Another accused, the former Nakheel lawyer Anthony Brearley, was cleared but had already fled the country.

For Mr Lee, 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 nor his wife were able to attend their funerals.

The case even resulted in the then Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, writing this year to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, to raise the case earlier.

“We now hope that Nakheel, as my employer and sponsor, will honour and now comply with its responsibilities under UAE labour laws, regarding both my employment status and entitlements,” said Mr Lee.

jbell@thenational.ae