DUBAI // A senior United States envoy has urged authorities to release the former Deyaar chief executive Zack Shahin on bail from Dubai central jail, where he is awaiting trial on charges of theft and fraud involving more than Dh300 million.
In an unusually direct public statement after visiting Shahin last week, L Victor Hurtado, chargé d'affaires at the US embassy in Abu Dhabi, said there were worries over the prisoner's health since he began a hunger strike in May.
"After more than six weeks, obviously there are serious concerns," said Mr Hurtado. "We continue to urge the authorities to release him on bail, as has been approved but not carried out in the past.
"In addition, we urge that the several outstanding pending cases against Mr Shahin can be consolidated, allowing him to defend himself more effectively."
Shahin's legal team in the US have launched a public-relations campaign calling for the president, Barack Obama, and the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, to intervene.
A US citizen, Shahin, 48, has been held since March 23, 2008. He began a hunger strike on May 14, joining several other prisoners who did the same, some of them in jail for writing bounced cheques.
He is being tried in three separate cases of varying complexity, all stemming from his time as head of Deyaar, the property development company.
The first set of charges allege that illegal payments of Dh56.6m were made by Deyaar to Shahin, facilitated by a former Minister of Finance and Industry, MK. The former minister's trial on those charges continues.
In the second trial, Shahin is accused with seven others of defrauding, swindling and embezzling Dh237m from Deyaar.
Finally, in March this year Shahin and his successor at Deyaar, MG, from Germany, were charged with causing intentional loss of public funds by renting a building from a former leading official between January 2008 and February 2010. Prosecutors allege both men knew the lease deal was of no benefit to Deyaar, while the official made a profit of Dh4.5m.
Shahin was granted Dh2m bail in June 2009 on the first charges and further Dh2m bail in the second case. However, a new investigation a month later quashed the bail order.
Yesterday neither the prosecution nor Shahin's legal team in the UAE would comment on the trials or the US envoy's intervention.
Shahin's case is one of a swath of arrests and corruption prosecutions that shook Dubai as the economic downturn began four years ago, implicating managers at government-owned companies, banks and developers in fraudulent land deals, corruption and theft.
Deyaar is 41 per cent owned by Dubai Islamic Bank. Last April six businessmen were jailed for 10 years for embezzling Dh1.8 billion from the bank, the longest prison sentences imposed in a fraud case in the UAE.
A series of other cases are going through the courts. Defendants who repay money they are accused of misappropriating are often dealt with leniently.