x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Trial of Sheikh Issa adjourns for expert testimony

A panel of judges heard closing arguments in the abuse case against Sheikh Issa bin Zayed yesterday, but adjourned the hearing pending further testimony by a forensic expert.

AL AIN // A panel of judges heard closing arguments in the abuse case against Sheikh Issa bin Zayed yesterday, but adjourned the hearing pending further testimony by a forensic expert. In a hearing at Al Ain Criminal Court, Sheikh Issa's attorney, Habib al Mulla, summed up his defence, arguing that a video depicting Sheikh Issa abusing an Afghan man should be inadmissible, and was being used for blackmail.

Mr al Mulla also argued that Sheikh Issa had been drugged and coerced into performing the acts depicted on the video. Sheikh Issa has been charged with endangering a life, causing bodily harm, and rape for a 2004 incident in which he was filmed allegedly abusing the Afghan grain merchant, Mohammed Shapoor, whom he accused of cheating him. Sheikh Issa is one of seven defendants accused by the Abu Dhabi Public Prosecution of involvement in the 2004 incident in Al Ain.

Mr Shapoor, who was in attendance at the hearing yesterday, settled out of court with Sheikh Issa in 2004 for injuries he sustained in the incident. The six other defendants named in the case include Ghassan and Bassam Nabulsi, who leaked the videotape to US media this year and are believed to have filmed the incident. The Nabulsi brothers have been involved in a separate legal action against Sheikh Issa in the US, and leaked the video to an American television channel last April.

Mr Shapoor has also filed a separate case against the Nabulsi brothers in absentia for allegedly orchestrating and videotaping his abuse. Mr al Mulla argued that at the time of the filming Sheikh Issa had drugs in his system that "affected his mental capacity to the point that he does not recall anything that happened that night". Ghassan Nabulsi had sought to blackmail the sheikh, Mr al Mulla told the court, so he invited Mr Shapoor to a meeting with him.

"Ghassan himself has admitted previously [to a court in the US] that he was in charge of handling my client's medications. One of the witnesses has testified that Sheikh Issa was normal before he went alone with Ghassan. When he came out with Ghassan, he was described as crazy and out of his mind. He was drugged," Mr al Mulla said. Ghassan Nabulsi then allegedly recorded nearly two hours of video of Sheikh Issa abusing Mr Shapoor.

"My client does not remember what happened that night. He did not have the mental capacity. Because he was drugged against his will, he cannot be held responsible for what took place that night," Mr al Mulla said. He also drew on previous rulings by the Federal Supreme Court in which video evidence of a crime scene was disallowed. "Taking a video of a crime scene is a criminal offence under federal laws," he told the court.

He also said the tape was used as an instrument of blackmail, presenting a letter from the Nabulsis' lawyer demanding $68 million (Dh250m) from Sheikh Issa to destroy the tape. "It is clear that the first and second defendant had ulterior motives when they recorded what happened. They only showed 15 minutes of two hours of tape," Mr al Mulla said. The hearing yesterday afternoon was held in a secured hall on the third floor of the Al Ain court, and was heard by a panel of expatriate judges including the president of the Al Ain court.

Prior to the adjournment, the judges requested Sheikh Issa's medical records and testimony from a forensics expert from the Al Ain court. The expert is expected to give an opinion on the potential effects of the drugs allegedly administered to Sheikh Issa. The next hearing will be held later this month. myoussef@thenational.ae