DUBAI (Zawya Dow Jones)--Dubai authorities widened Monday their allegations against the detained former chief executive of Deyaar Development (DEYAAR.DFM) Zack Shahin as his lawyers prepare to launch a campaign in the U.S. claiming he has been tortured in the emirate. Dubai Attorney General Essam Essa Al Humaidan told the government-controlled Emirates News Agency that prosecutors were "close" to completing their investigation into Shahin and other suspects who they now allege embezzled more than 98 million UAE dirhams ($27 million).
The statement comes ahead of a planned press conference in Washington D.C. this week where Jim Jatras, a principal at U.S. law firm Squire Sanders Dempsey representing Shahin, and Global Strategic Communications Group, a U.S. public relations firm acting on his behalf, will detail allegations of torture against their client.
"Zack Shahin has been subjected to torture and been made a target of a politically charged investigation," according to a statement from Jatras. Examples of alleged torture that Shahin claims he was subjected to include solitary confinement, being denied food for a period in custody and being forced to sign documents against his will, according to Jatras.
Dubai's authorities deny the allegations of torture. Al Humaidan said in the statement on the Abu Dhabi-based news agency that all procedures related to Shahin's case have adhered to the laws of the United Arab Emirates and international regulations regarding the treatment of foreign nationals. The prosecutor added that Shahin may also face allegations of laundering money through several banks in Lebanon, Switzerland and the U.S. He told the Abu Dhabi-based agency that U.S. Embassy officials had access to Shahin.
Shahin, a U.S. citizen of Lebanese origin, was detained in March last year as part of an investigation into alleged fraud at Deyaar. He hasn't been charged and has previously denied any wrongdoing in two interviews from jail with Zawya Dow Jones last year.
Dubai and the United Arab Emirates has faced criticism in the past for human rights infringements including its widely reported treatment of low-cost workers and the exploitation of children in camel racing.
Shahin's arrest last year triggered a crackdown on alleged corporate corruption in Dubai that has led to the detention of several senior executives and financiers from the real estate industry. The alleged corporate scandals have partly been blamed for a rapid cool-off in the emirate's real estate industry, which is estimated to account for about 30% of the economy.
"Zack Shahin's treatment merits a sharper focus on Dubai, and on the U.A.E. generally," said Jatras in an emailed statement to Zawya Dow Jones. "Mr. Shahin's plight should be viewed in a broader context of domestic and international behavior including human rights failures."
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy told Zawya Dow Jones in December that it was aware of Shahin's case and that the U.S. consul-general has urged prosecutors to complete their investigations in a more "expeditious" manner. Officials from the embassy were unavailable for comment when called Monday. The detention of Shahin and four other suspects in the alleged fraud case was extended by Dubai's Public Prosecution at a public hearing at the Dubai Courts earlier this month. In the meantime, the company's stock has suffered. The shares, listed on the Dubai Financial Market, are down about 81% since Feb. 24 last year.
"We as Deyaar are not involved with the investigations, neither do we have any authority in the direction the case takes," said Nasser Bin Hassan Al-Shaikh, director-general of the Dubai Department of Finance and chairman of Deyaar in a statement to Zawya Dow Jones. The real-estate developer has a market capitalization of more than AED2.9 billion, according to Zawya.com.