Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Zack Shahin, former chief executive officer of Dubai’s second-biggest property developer, Deyaar Development PJSC, should be released after almost a year of being detained in Dubai without any charges filed, representatives of his family said.
Shahin, a U.S. citizen, has been improperly jailed by the emirate’s government and has been tortured, Shahin family adviser James Jatras said yesterday at a Washington news conference held to draw attention to the case.
“We’re at risk he’s never going to come out,” Shahin’s brother, Hicham Chahine, said in an interview after the event. “We’re in the dark. No one can tell us what’s going on.”
Dubai’s attorney general, Essam Essa al-Humaidan, said in a telephone interview that Shahin is being held as part of an investigation into corruption in the emirate’s real-estate industry. He rejected accusations that Shahin or other executives have been mistreated.
Shahin, 45, is one of at least 40 businessmen from the U.S., Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Austria, India, and Pakistan who have been held in a Dubai prison under similar circumstances without being charged, according to three people who have repeatedly visited the facility during the past year.
Amnesty International, the London-based human-rights group, said in a December 2008 report that Emiratis and foreigners have been “arbitrarily arrested and held incommunicado for prolonged periods of time, commonly in undisclosed locations where they may face torture and other ill treatment.”
Al-Humaidan rejected accusations of human-rights abuses against Shahin or others.
Shahin and Adel al-Shirawi, former CEO of mortgage lender Tamweel PJSC, who also has been held, “have been granted all the rights under U.A.E. law,” al-Humaidan said. Courts have approved government requests to extend their detention during the probe, he said.
“Additional facts were being revealed in the course of the investigation, and every time we needed an extension we showed the court why we needed more time,” al-Humaidan said.
Shahin and his associates are being probed in connection with the alleged embezzlement of 98 million dirhams ($27 million), al-Humaidan said.
Jatras, a principal at Squire Sanders Public Advocacy LLC in Washington, said Shahin didn’t embezzle any money. Dubai’s government may be trying to “scapegoat” Shahin for misconduct by others, Jatras said.
Property companies had benefited from demand for mortgages and housing in the U.A.E. since 2002, when foreigners were allowed to buy property there for the first time. Real estate prices in Dubai have fallen 25 percent from their September peak, Morgan Stanley said in a Feb. 2 report. The decline comes as the price of Dubai oil has plummeted by about two-thirds since July.
Last year, the emirate began an investigation into real- estate corruption that has resulted in the arrest of several officials.
Dubai’s prosecution has referred four cases to the emirate’s courts, which “all relate to corruption and kickbacks in real- estate companies,” the attorney general said, declining to identify the companies or individuals involved.
Dubai Islamic Bank PJSC, the sheikhdom’s largest lender complying with Islamic banking laws, has said former employees are being investigated. The bank owns stakes in Deyaar and Tamweel.
Nakheel PJSC, the Dubai government-owned real-estate developer that’s building three man-made islands in the shape of palm trees, said Feb. 11 that two employees were “assisting the authorities with their investigations.”
U.S. consular officers were first permitted to visit Shahin in April, said Fred Lash, a State Department spokesman.
The U.S. has “repeatedly encouraged the Dubai authorities to conduct their investigation in an expeditious and transparent manner,” Lash said. “We hope that he will at last have his day in court and be able to mount a defense of the accusations made against him.”
Jatras said Shahin is suffering from heart trouble and other ailments and has been moved to a hospital. Shahin’s wife Soha, sat at the news conference crying and didn’t comment. She was joined by their children, Ramy, 16, and Meera, 11.
“The presumption is guilty until we find enough evidence to prove you guilty and if we don’t we’ll make it up,” Eric Akers, a family friend, said at the news conference.
During his detention, Shahin was forced to hold his arms above his head for a prolonged period, was blindfolded and had to use a container retrieved from a garbage can as a toilet, Darren Spinck, another spokesman for the family, said during the news conference. Shahin was held for 16 days in solitary confinement, Spinck said.
Jatras said the family called the news conference to apply pressure on the Dubai government to release Shahin.
“By shining a spotlight on his case, the authorities have to start taking this seriously -- either to charge him or release him,” Jatras said.