x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Judges step down from bank trial

The judges who presided over two cases that involved attempts to withdraw colossal amounts of money from the Central Bank step down, citing recent 'untruthful' media reports.

Abu Dhabi // The judges who presided over two cases that involved attempts to withdraw colossal amounts of money from the Central Bank stepped down yesterday from the trial, citing recent "untruthful" media reports.

Chief Justice Saeed Abdul Baseer and two colleagues were due to announce a verdict on one of the cases yesterday. But, instead, he said the case had been compromised after two local newspapers published articles on September 28 that said the judges had issued an acquittal.

"Media outlets reported the court acquitted the defendants last month, but the case was still under deliberation for a decision," Chief Justice Abdul Baseer said. "This untruthful reporting put us in an uneasy situation and, therefore, the case would be referred to other judges to preside over it."

He added the move would avoid any influence on the presiding judges' decision.

The two reporters who were involved in writing the stories were initially referred to the Public Prosecution and accused of maliciously intending to influence the decision of the judges. Their passports were confiscated and they were banned from leaving the country.

These allegations were later dropped and their passports returned to them.

The Central Bank has been the target of six similar attempts to withdraw large sums of money, prosecutors told the court in June. All cases involved an absentee defendant named Agha Farzeen Sonali, an Iranian.

Yesterday's trial involved an Iranian, IK, and a naturalised American of Iranian descent, NB. They appeared before the court on June 19 charged with fraud and forging documents after attempting to withdraw Dh14.4 billion from the Central Bank on Bainuna Street in April.

IK told the court he was a victim of fraud himself. He said he was approached by a investor who claimed he could help him finance a tourist village.

The investor said he was serving as a middleman for Sonali. The funds withdrawn from the Central Bank were to be used for IK's project, while the middleman would collect one per cent as a personal bonus.

NB told the court he was merely serving as a translator.

After the chief justice announced yesterday he was abandoning the case, NB screamed in the courtroom: "I have been in prison for seven months and no one has allowed me to say anything. No one asked me anything. They do not have any evidence against me, nothing."

He said he had lost US$200,000 (Dh734,000) since being arrested.

The Central Bank does not hold private funds and deals only with other banks.

hhassan@thenational.ae