x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Plaintiff was 'fully aware' of what she was signing

Sister of deceased businessman handed over IT company to a former UAE minister of state, court hears.

DUBAI // The sister of a deceased Lebanese businessman signed away his Dubai-based IT company to a former UAE minister of state "fully aware" of what she was doing, a court was told yesterday. Two defence witnesses gave evidence to the Dubai Misdemeanours Court during a two-and-a-half hour session in the case of alleged betrayal of trust brought against the former minister, his son and two other senior company executives.

First to testify was a legal consultant and sharia law professor, identified only as MR, who was the former minister's legal adviser in 2005 and who witnessed the signing of the settlement agreement between the woman and the former minister. The agreement, which is being contested by the late businessman's sister, MJ, handed her and her late brother's heirs' control of the company to the former minister, who cannot be named.

MR told the court that the meeting between the former minister and MJ in his office in 2005 was "very cordial". He said the plaintiff, a practising Lebanese lawyer, was accompanied by a legal adviser and "was fully aware" of what she was doing. "She knew what she was signing and what her duties and obligations were according to the terms of this settlement. I did not notice any tension." The description contradicts evidence given by MJ on Nov 10, that the former minister coerced her into signing the settlement by threatening to throw her into the sea.

MR said MJ had plenty of time to review the settlement and even made amendments to an earlier draft, which were incorporated. He said both parties were in total agreement in 2005, that they had a draft of the settlement in hand when they came to his office and that his role was limited to cleaning up the legal language and typing out the final version. "Their draft was acceptable, it was professionally written, I only rearranged some of the terms and added a sixth clause. The clause said that this document is a final and comprehensive settlement [that] all the parties have agreed to."

What prompted MJ to file a civil suit earlier this year against the former minister was the discovery of a signed but non-notarised document in her late brother's home safe dated 1998. The document stated that the minister had no ownership stake in the company and was only a salaried employee, paid an annual salary of Dh600,000 (US$163,000) for affixing his name and signature to the company's trade licence.

The court also heard the testimony of MA, a financial consultant engaged by the company to resolve disputes between the Lebanese businessman's heirs and the former minister. He told the court that he had handed MJ a cheque for Dh5.6 million, profits from the company's Greek project, adding that she was "very happy" with the settlement. MJ claimed she reluctantly acquiesced to the minister's demands and signed the settlement to save the company and the jobs of 350 people.

When the plaintiff confronted the former minister with the document she found in her brother's safe, she said the defendant told her what she had was an old and useless paper. MJ claims she was also locked out of the company's premises. hbathish@thenational.ae