x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

New year brings new life for Marcus and Julie Lee

Under house arrest since 2009, Marcus Lee finally cleared his name, had his passport returned and went home.

Marcus Lee has been under house arrest since 2009 but is now planning for the future. “We want to try to reconnect with our families and friends again,” says his wife, Julie. Courtesy Julie Lee
Marcus Lee has been under house arrest since 2009 but is now planning for the future. “We want to try to reconnect with our families and friends again,” says his wife, Julie. Courtesy Julie Lee

DUBAI // For the first time since 2009 there will be no cloud hanging over Marcus and Julie Lee this new year.

Mr Lee, a former Nakheel executive, was accused of trying to pocket Dh44 million by fraudulently selling a piece of the collapsed Dubai Waterfront project.

After being under house arrest since 2009 he cleared his name this year.

The pinnacle moment of this year for his wife was standing in the courtroom in May as the judge in Dubai ruled Mr Lee was innocent, had committed no crime and profited in no way from the alleged property scam.

“It is a day we will never forget,” said Ms Lee who, like her husband, is an accountant from Sydney, Australia. “I heard the judge read out Marcus’s name, then the decision. I was then told ‘Marcus is innocent’.

“After all we had gone through, all the hardships, and then finally getting Marcus’ innocence confirmed, I was shaking, I couldn’t speak. It will be a day etched in our memories forever.”

A low, she said, was 14 days later after hearing an appeal had been lodged.

“We were then advised the appeal process could take another year,” Ms Lee said. “We didn’t know what to think or feel. It felt like we were again lost at sea.”

But in November the Court of Appeal upheld the decision. On December 15, Mr Lee had his passport returned.

Despite the year’s highs, the legal success brought with it some tough memories.

Mr Lee’s father, stepfather and grandmother all died before his name was cleared.

But the couple said they are slowly starting to enjoy life again.

“We are trying to just do simple things such as trying to be a little happier, enjoying the small things a little more,” Ms Lee said.

“We are also starting to try to plan for the future again, something we have been unable to do or even think about for years.

“We have worked out it’s going to take some time to readjust to a normal life, but it is there in front of us now and we are slowly starting to see it again.”

Christmas was markedly different to the previous four years, said Ms Lee, who had to surrender her passport to secure her husband’s bail.

“We haven’t been with our families for more than five years for Christmas,” she said. “Both of our mothers are now widowed and alone in Australia.

“Also, for the last four years we have had this case as a ‘black cloud’ hanging over our heads that we were never really able to ignore. The case has just dominated every thought, everything in our lives.”

Next year, she said, would be a process of putting the past five years behind them.

“It won’t be easy but we have to,” said Ms Lee. “We want to try to reconnect with our families and friends again. Remember how to laugh and be happy, and to be able to plan for our future again.

“We have proven we are strong, we can withstand the most trying situations that would test the best of relationships, and we are survivors.”

Mr Lee was one of two former Nakheel employees who were arrested in Dubai in January 2009 and charged with abuse of public funds, fraud, breach of trust and acquiring illegal profits and commissions.

It concerned the rights to develop the plot of land, called D17.

Mr Lee spent nine months in three prisons before being placed under house arrest in October of that year.

But after more than 50 hearings before Dubai Criminal Court and evidence from more than a dozen witnesses from Australia and Dubai, and the intervention of the former Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, he was eventually cleared of all charges.

The other Nakheel employee and Mr Lee’s compatriot, Matthew Joyce, was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was acquitted of all charges last month.

jbell@thenational.ae