x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dubai World defeats French ex-spy in Florida court

Jury rejects claims of Herve Jaubert, who sold Dubai World two submersibles that never worked, who said he fled the UAE in a burqa under threat of torture and imprisonment.

Herve Jaubert with one of his company's tailor-made submarines in Dubai.
Herve Jaubert with one of his company's tailor-made submarines in Dubai.

NEW YORK // A US federal jury in Florida has rejected claims by a former French intelligence officer that Dubai World abused the UAE's judicial process to extort money from him.

Herve Jaubert said he escaped from the Emirates under threat of torture and imprisonment and attracted extensive media attention in August 2009. He filed a lawsuit the following month in Florida claiming abuse of process by Dubai World.

After a two-week trial in Fort Pierce, Florida, the jury rejected Mr Jaubert's claims on Monday.

George Dalton, the general counsel for Dubai World, said the rest of Mr Jaubert's lawsuit, which included allegations of fraud, false imprisonment and defamation, was thrown out by Judge Jose Martinez just before the start of the trial.

Judge Martinez also ruled that Mr Jaubert breached a contract to sell the Emirati conglomerate two submersibles in 2004. He awarded US$338,150 (Dh1.24 million) in damages as part of that judgment. However, the jury rejected Dubai World's counterclaims of fraud, embezzlement and theft by Mr Jaubert.

"I am extremely pleased with the result," Mr Dalton said after the verdict. "The court awarded us damages in excess of $330,000 while the judge and jury threw out all Jaubert's fabricated claims and awarded zero damages to him. It was a solid win."

The jury's verdict brings to an end one of the more salacious stories about failed Dubai investments to emerge during the economic downturn, with allegations against Dubai World of fraud and extortion coloured by Mr Jaubert's tales of torture threats and escapist derring-do.

According to court papers, Mr Jaubert, 54, spent 10 years with the DGSE, France's external intelligence agency, where he was involved in covert operations. After leaving the service, he moved to Puerto Rico in 1996 and began a submarine charter business. In 2000, he relocated to Florida to start Seahorse Submarines International.

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, the former Dubai World chairman, first met Mr Jaubert in 2004 and ordered three submersibles. Later that year, Mr bin Sulayem agreed to set up a submersible manufacturing company, Exomos, headed by Mr Jaubert in the Jebel Ali Free Zone. During the trial, several witnesses for Dubai World stated that Mr Jaubert's submersibles never worked despite the company investing millions of dollars and building a first-class manufacturing facility.

After the Dubai World and UAE auditors discovered numerous irregularities in Exomos's books, Mr Jaubert agreed to pay the company back nearly $1m. Mr Jaubert claimed in court he agreed only to make payments under pressure from Dubai World with the complicity of the Dubai police.

He said he decided to flee the country after the authorities confiscated his passport in 2007 and again in 2008 as part of what he called a co-ordinated effort to persecute him.

In numerous media interviews, Mr Jaubert claimed he fled Dubai in April 2008 by disguising himself as a woman in a burqa, using his skills to disable a patrol boat, then sailing to India before returning to Florida where he now lives. However, Dubai World's lawyers argued to the jury that Mr Jaubert invented much of his story and sought publicity for it as part of a plan to extort millions more from the company.

"This decision totally vindicates Dubai World and the Dubai Police and prosecutors of the baseless claims made by Jaubert," Mr Dalton said. "These decisions by judge and jury have finally ended Jaubert's two-year effort to extort millions from Dubai World with threats of negative publicity.

"He will find it very difficult to dupe anyone ever again."

Dubai World says Mr Jaubert's continuous attempts at publicity culminating in his 2009 lawsuit left them no other option but to counter-sue.

In particular, an audio recording of his alleged interrogation by Dubai Police led several prominent US and European papers to publish stories about Mr Jaubert's claims of abuse.

In cross-examination Mr Jaubert admitted that he created the recording, which he called a "re-enactment" at a Chinese restaurant in Florida, with two Yemeni men playing the roles of the interrogators.

sdevi@thenational.ae