Amid allegations of corruption against various directors and officers of Deyaar, Shahin has been wrongly singled out as having participated in draining the company of equity. He has been imprisoned without trial by the Dubai government under inhumane conditions for over five years, suffering violations of his due process rights under the laws of Dubai. Although various charges have been filed, a resolution to most is still pending. Previous cases have even been dismissed on the eve before trial, just when Shahin was about to present his defense to the claims against him. And, despite Shahin’s acquittal on two of the most serious charges (an upheld appeal on an acquittal and a successful appeal on a conviction), Shahin remains imprisoned.
All the while, the American government has witnessed these due process abuses, while periodically inquiring about the status of his cases in the Dubai courts and sending its Embassy representatives to court hearings. They have witnessed first-hand five years of delays, due to the prosecutors and judges failing to show up at scheduled hearings. The American government appears timid to express a more forceful position in seeking fairness and justice in Zack’s case.
Shahin’s March 2008 arrest was nothing more than a glorified kidnapping. Under the pretense of a meeting with government auditors, Shahin was abducted and held incommunicado from his family, legal counsel, and the U.S. Consulate for over two weeks, in violation of Dubai and international law. Without a warrant, Shahin’s home was ransacked and his personal safebox searched, with the security forces taking his personal papers and credit cards. He was forced by threats against the safety of his wife and children to sign documents in Arabic that he could not read.
During Shahin’s early days of imprisonment, he was:
During the interrogations, Shahin’s statements were manipulated and his final “testimony” fabricated. Shahin was finally allowed to call his wife while being held captive in an unknown location, but he was told what to say and what to answer by the Dubai security forces. Despite Shahin pleading with the prosecution to be released, on the third day of his imprisonment, security officials obtained the Dubai prosecutor’s authorization to detain Shahin for another 21 days.
Shahin has been made a target of a politically charged investigation into corruption and alleged financial wrongdoings. He is accused of embezzling $100,000 from Deyaar, despite the company’s Board of Directors having approved this payment to Shahin as an incentive bonus.
The expert auditor, a Dubai court approved expert witness in accounting matters, informed the court in writing that all the financial transactions and activities alleged by the prosecution to be in violation of law were signed and approved by the Board of Directors and Board Chairman of Deyaar, reviewed by outside auditors who had been approved by the shareholders of Deyaar, and subject to quarterly and annual audit since 2004 by Ernst & Young. This auditor also informed the court in his letter that after reviewing all the prosecution’s files, all of the irregularities alleged by the prosecution did not have sufficient or relevant supporting documentation to back them up.
For over 13 months, no formal charges were filed against Shahin by the prosecution, making Shahin’s prolonged detention even more suspect. During this time, Shahin was not told of the allegations against him, nor was he permitted to post a reasonable bond pending the results of any investigation. Extensions of Shahin’s continued imprisonment were automatically granted without any advance review of his case file by the various judges handed his file.
Throughout Shahin’s ordeal, there has been no regard given to his civil rights. Multiple official Diplomatic Notes from the United States Embassy in United Arab Emirates to U.A.E.'s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, requesting a status and timeline on the Shahin investigation and, if the investigation was unlikely to be wrapped up quickly, a reasonable bail, went unanswered. In a May 2008 diplomatic note, the United States Government strongly encouraged the U.A.E. of its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, requiring prompt consular notification of a citizen’s arrest and access to the incarcerated.
Thanks in part to Washington’s public overtures and after five year’s of continued unwillingness to afford Shahin basic due process rights, Dubai finally relented and granted Shahin bail in July 2012. On July 13, 2012, Shahin was released on bond after meeting bail conditions including posting a $1.4 million (Dh $5 million) guarantee and surrendering his passport as surety.
Upon his release on bail bond from prison in Dubai, Shahin focused his attention on his defense and recuperating his health. While threats to Shahin’s safety were commonplace during his over four years of imprisonment in Dubai, physical attacks were limited to the initial two weeks after his arrest and by convicted felons who were intentionally allowed access to Shahin in his prison cell. Leading up to his release, however, the intensity of threats increased. U.S. Consulate officials were advised of these threats and subsequently sent U.S. government officials to meet Shahin upon his release in order to discourage any attack on him when he was initially set free on bail. Within days of his release on bail, as Shahin feared and was told, he was attacked in his hotel room. The attackers entered Shahin’s hotel room using a keycard – no doubt with the assistance of hotel security – and proceeded to attack Shahin physically, including using mace and a taser to render him unable to defend himself. The assailants then threatened Shahin’s life if he either sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy or if he went to a local hospital for treatment. Because of the imminent threat to Zack’s life, he was forced to take urgent and drastic steps to not only protest his physical safety, but to remain alive and fled to Yemen.
The State Department’s malfeasance during Shahin’s detention in Yemen is staggering. Having been imprisoned by Yemeni authorities for illegal entry into that country, but not otherwise accused of any other offense there, Shahin’s U.S. counsel repeatedly requested to various members of the diplomatic and consular team in Sana’a to communicate to the Yemenis that, unless he was accused of a crime in Yemen, he should be released and allowed to return to the United States. Moreover, as Shahin’s counsel was then aware and communicated in real time to American officials in Sana’a and Washington, the Yemeni officials themselves repeatedly sought guidance about what “the Americans” wanted done with Shahin (who was being held with al-Qaida and other dangerous suspects), indicating their willingness to release him if so requested by U.S. officials. Despite the urgent pleadings of Shahin’s counsel, no such indication was given to the Yemenis by the U.S. Embassy Sana’a team.
Even the simple expedient of issuing Zack a temporary passport – a routine matter under the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) – was unnecessarily drawn out and complicated by the consular officer in Sana’a, until counsel for Shahin cited to the officer the relevant FAM passages. Eventually, after weeks of inexcusable inaction and negligence by U.S. officials in Sana’a, Shahin was transported back to Dubai without any deportation hearing, extradition proceeding, or other legal formalities. Shahin then faced potentially new charges of illegal exit from U.A.E. and – incredibly, since he was transported by U.A.E. officials against his will – illegal entry to U.A.E. This malfeasance has been detailed to appropriate State Department officials for briefing Secretary Kerry.
In February 2013, Shahin finally faced trial and was acquitted on the first of five criminal cases against him, all of which stem from the same baseless accusations concerning his tenure as CEO of Deyaar, a Dubai-based real estate company. While acquitting Shahin on one case, the court nonetheless found him to be a “public employee,” a conclusion without legal or factual basis but which could have a negative impact on the remaining cases.
These developments, together with exonerating audit information available to the court, provided little reason for further delay in establishing Zack’s innocence and allowing him to be set at liberty to return to his family in the United States. However, the prosecution appealed Zack’s acquittal on the first case, showing Dubai’s intent to keep him in jail indefinitely with no discernible motive beyond vindictiveness. A judge of Dubai’s Cassation Court later upheld Shahin’s not-guilty verdict.
In March 2013, Shahin was sentenced to 15 years in prison, convicted of taking Dh 20 million in bribes and over-inflating the price of a Deyaar real estate purchase in Houston, Texas. Three co-defendants were found guilty of conspiring with Shahin. Shahin and co-defendants were found not guilty of forgery, but were fined Dh 28.5 million total and ordered to repay Deyaar the same amount. Shahin immediately appealed the verdict. Dubai’s Court of Appeal overturned Shahin’s guilty verdict in November 2013.
Despite an appeals court overturning Shahin’s guilty verdict and a cassation court upholding another not-guilty verdict, after four years of court appearances and continuances, and an obvious strategic maneuver by the Dubai government to deny this American citizen his due process right to a trial, the U.S. government continues to tread lightly. The fear of jeopardizing the positive relationship of an ally apparently outweighs the rights of one American citizen. Elsewhere, the U.S. government aggressively pursues human rights causes, even those involving dissidents of other governments. The time has come for action by the Obama administration – not in intervening in the local affairs of a sovereign nation -- but in demanding from that sovereign equality under its laws and a justice system independent of political influence. This is all Shahin’s family has ever asked for – his day in court to present his case, his witnesses, and his evidence. He has done so and has been vindicated. It is time for Dubai to throw out the remaining meritless charges and allow Shahin to return to his family.