The US has made a rare public intervention in the case of the imprisoned US businessman Zack Shahin, who has been jailed for more than four years in Dubai on fraud charges.
Mr Shahin, who has had several inconclusive trials since his arrest in 2008 – none of which has led to a conviction – is in the third week of a hunger strike in protest of what he describes as an arbitrary legal system. He still faces charges on three pending cases but no court date has been set.
Justin Siberell, the US consul-general in Dubai, visited Mr Shahin, the former chief executive of the troubled property developer Deyaar, on Thursday. In a statement, Mr Siberell expressed concerns over the handling of Mr Shahin’s case, including the fact that he “has not been released on bail that has been approved in the past”.
The statement added: “We are gravely concerned about Mr Shahin’s health after more than two weeks on hunger strike.”
The US has frequently made private representations on behalf of Mr Shahin, most recently to the United Arab Emirates ambassador in Washington, but such a public statement marks an increase in pressure on Dubai, a strong US ally in the Gulf.
Mr Shahin has said he was determined to use his hunger strike to force a resolution to his situation.
A US embassy spokesman called on Dubai to consolidate the charges against Mr Shahin and grant him bail. Dubai and the UAE federal government representatives were not available for comment.
Mr Shahin was detained in a large corruption investigation that swept the commercial hub towards the end of Dubai’s real estate boom. Dozens of executives and officials were detained, some of whom have been tried and jailed, while others avoided charges by paying back the proceeds of their alleged wrongdoing.
Mr Siberell raised “concern about whether Mr Shahin is receiving equal treatment as measured against other defendants accused of financial crimes in the UAE”.
Most Emirati suspects, including Mr Shahin’s co-defendant, have received bail, but many expatriates – most infamously Mr Shahin – have remained jailed before trial, criticised by many as a confusing, extended process.
Other expatriate fraud suspects have also been allowed to post bail through their trials.v
Mr Shahin’s protest comes as 19 other inmates at Dubai’s central jail continue a hunger strike to protest their convictions for bouncing cheques, a criminal offence in the UAE.
These inmates, including the campaigning former property developer Safi Qurashi, started their hunger strikes more than a month ago, calling for reform of a system where debtors are regularly jailed without proving criminal intent.
Some briefly stopped their protests after officials promised to review their cases, but they started to refuse food again once no progress was made.