Twenty years ago, Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates, decided to reinvent itself as the financial and business hub of the Middle East — a latter day Hong Kong and Singapore rolled into one.
The leaders planned a frenzy of building activity, but lacked skilled managers to oversee the projects. They found expatriates to do the job, Americans and other Westerners. Zack Shahin of Ohio was one of them. He joined Deyaar, a developer formed by local investors. He became its CEO and oversaw several major projects. The board was so pleased it awarded him a $100,000 performance bonus.
Then, on March 23, 2008, undercover agents walked into a meeting and took him away without explanation. He was kept in solitary confinement for days and finally ordered to sign a document in Arabic (which he could not read) confessing to misappropriating company money.
Investigations continued for years without charges being made. He was finally tried in early 2013 on some of the four cases that rested on baseless accusations. He was found not guilty in his first trial, the prosecutor appealed, but the not-guilty ruling was upheld.
Then, in March last year, he and other co-defendants from Deyaar were tried for embezzlement (sounds like prosecutorial vindictiveness to the outside observer).
They were found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Zack immediately appealed and the sentence was overturned. Desperate for a conviction and long imprisonment for Shahin, prosecutors filed yet another last-minute appeal to reverse the overturned 15-year sentence.
Prior to these trials, Shahin waged a public hunger strike to protest his lack of due process rights in Dubai. Following direct appeals to the U.S. government to appeal to Dubai officials on his behalf, Shahin was eventually granted bail. Following threats to this life, Shahin went to Yemen in the hope that U.S. State Department officials there would arrange to get him home to his family in America. Instead, these U.S. officials stood aside as Yemeni security services took him to the airport to illegally extradite him back to Dubai. Thus, except for a very brief period of time, he has languished in jail for nearly six years.
Despite the fact that all the evidence available would tell our officials that the causes of Shahin’s ordeal were a mixture of greed, jealously, and blaming expatriates if things don’t go as an investor might want them to, most official contact by the United States has been at the consular level. Compare this to the action of President Theodore Roosevelt in the early 20th century. When an applicant for U.S. citizenship in Morocco, one Perdicaris, was held hostage by a renegade sheik, Raisuli, TR declared publicly, “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead within 24 hours.” Perdicaris was freed.
Or, compare it with a recent case involving an Australian businessman, Matt Joyce. He had been engaged by company to get development rights to Dubai waterfront land. The company claimed Joyce and a colleague had swindled it. It sued in Australia and was turned down. Then it brought property fraud charges in Dubai. He was convicted, sentenced to 10 years in jail, and a $25 million fine. Last month, he was suddenly acquitted by the Dubai Court of Appeals. What happened?
The Australian Foreign Affairs Office took on the case at the highest levels and began discussions with senior Dubai officials. What details transpired is not known. What is known is that Matt Joyce is free and now home in Australia.
Apparently, the Aussies don’t agree with the concept of “leading from behind.”
It is obvious what our government should do without further delay: send senior officials to Dubai to have similar conversations with the objective of freeing Zack Shahin to return home. We are not without influence. We have a base in the UAE as part of our Fifth Fleet which is instrumental in keeping the UAE and all the Gulf States safe from the designs of Iran. Many U.S. dollars flow into the UAE economy. That must have greater value to them than keeping an innocent businessman in jail.