UN rights experts urge UAE to release British businessman detained since 2008 – JURIST
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has urged the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to immediately release Ryan Cornelius, a British businessman detained in the country since 2008 for fraud. The opinion is based on submissions made by Cornelius’ lawyers in the UK.
According to the statements, in 2004, CCH, a German finance house, financed the development project of Cornelius and his business partners through a line of credit from the Islamic Bank of Dubai. CCH and Dubai Islamic Bank have reached a restructuring agreement and a three-year repayment schedule with Cornelius as guarantor. The assets of Cornelius and the development project have been pledged. Despite honoring the restructuring agreement, Cornelius and his business partner were reportedly arrested in 2008.
Subsequently, Cornelius was aggressively interrogated and held in solitary confinement without any access to legal representation. During his detention, the Dubai Islamic Bank served notice of breach of the restructuring agreement and subsequently seized his property development. While in detention, he was often placed in solitary confinement until his trial in 2010.
During the trial, the prosecution brought a new charge of “theft from public bodies” against Cornelius after failing to prove the original charge of fraud. The Islamic Bank of Dubai was reclassified as a public body, making the loan an “unpaid debt to the state”. After a lengthy trial in April 2011, the court found Cornelius and his business partner guilty of “embezzlement of public funds”. He sentenced them to 10 years in prison and a $500 million fine.
It was submitted to the task force that the trial had been brief and that Cornelius’ lawyer had not been allowed to question the witnesses. Furthermore, the complainant’s identity was not disclosed to Cornelius, in violation of Dubai law. The UAE authorities also did not reduce his sentence for his good behavior, available as a legal right.
In March 2018, when he had served most of his sentence, his prison term was extended by a further 20 years by retroactive application of Dubai Law No. 37 of 2009. He was only granted no legal representation at this hearing. Additionally, prison authorities barred Cornelius from representing himself in an appeal against the sentence. The Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution ruled that the seizure of Cornelius’ assets by Dubai Islamic Bank meant that his debt was fully paid.
While in custody, Cornelius also contracted tuberculosis, possibly as a result of allegedly poor prison conditions in the United Arab Emirates.
In December 2021, the working group forwarded these allegations to the United Arab Emirates, from which it received no response. Human rights experts have concluded that Cornelius’ arrest, solitary confinement, trial, lack of access to legal representation and retroactive sentencing were arbitrary under Categories I and III of the methods of work of the working group. They called on the UAE to abide by relevant international standards and secure his release.