x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

'Under investigation' consul recalled to Austria

Gerhard Dedic is accused of recommending the services of a man who was allegedly not qualified to act as a lawyer.

The consul general of Austria, who is being investigated by prosecutors in Vienna, has stepped down from his post in Abu Dhabi.

However, a spokesman for the Austrian foreign ministry said that Gerhard Dedic was being replaced because his term had expired rather than because of the investigation.

Mr Dedic is accused of recommending the services of a man who was allegedly not qualified to act as a lawyer.

The diplomat is being investigated by public prosecutors in Vienna, and campaigners have raised questions over the timing of the move.

"It looks like they've found some evidence of wrongdoing, otherwise he wouldn't be removed from Abu Dhabi," said Bernhard Lassy, the president of Saubere Hände, a complaints board which collected the original allegations.

However, the foreign ministry, said that Mr Dedic had already served a five-year term in the UAE and was now being recalled as a matter of course.

"His term came to an end, so he's now in the process of moving back to Austria," said Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, a spokesman for the ministry. "This is a routine change."

He added that an internal investigation by the ministry had found no evidence of wrongdoing.

"We were made aware of certain irregularities in the region," he said. "There were internal investigations which did not reveal any wrongdoing, in terms of relevance to the penal code. Anything we came across was presented to the state attorney in Austria as part of their investigations. There are still ongoing investigations there."

The Vienna Public Prosecutor's Office, confirmed that the investigation is ongoing.

The allegations refer to Mr Dedic recommending to Austrians the services of Mohammed Ziad Al Kawadri, a Syrian national and legal consultant.

Last month, the Vienna-based newspaper Kurier printed a note, apparently signed by Mr Dedic and dated April 2008, authorising Mr Al Kawadri as a legal adviser to "intercede and take all legal actions in favour of our Austrian citizens".

Theoretically, since Mr Al Kawadri is not an officially recognised barrister, he cannot represent clients in court. However, under a legal quirk, he was able to legitimately represent cases on behalf of UAE lawyers, with their permission.

Mr Launsky-Tieffenthal said that the foreign ministry was confident that in each case where Mr Al Kawadri represented Austrian nationals, he was legally allowed to do so.

"Mr Al Kawadri seems to have had the authority to appear in court and the authority was given to him by different law firms in different cases," said Mr Launsky-Tieffenthal.

Mr Al Kawadri confirmed that he had represented about 30 cases on behalf of the Austrian Embassy, always with the permission of the defendant.

He said that all of the cases were represented with letters of "enaba" - legal permission - from a recognised barrister.

Mr Al Kawadri claimed he had never defrauded an Austrian national. "If someone has a contract with us, they can go to the court and sue us," he said. "We want to know the name of the person who has been served badly because of our services. Tell us and we will file a case against ourselves through a third party, to see if it's true."

mcroucher@thenational.ae