HOUSTON (AP) — A Lebanese-born U.S. citizen who had been imprisoned in Dubai for more than four years on fraud charges is receiving medical treatment after being released on bond, but his exact whereabouts remain a mystery, his Ohio-based attorney said Wednesday.
Zack Shahin, who was arrested in 2008 on suspicions he embezzled millions of dollars while CEO of Deyaar Development, had recently launched a hunger strike in prison, threatening to strain relations between the United States and one of its top Persian Gulf allies. He was released last Thursday after claiming for months that he was being denied due process and was mistreated in jail.
Shahin, 52, met with an American consular officer after his release, an embassy spokesman in Dubai told The Associated Press. His U.S. attorney, Eric Akers, said Shahin then spoke with his brother, Hicham Shahin, who lives in Ohio, on Sunday or Monday but hasn't been heard from since.
"We have had sporadic contact with him since his release," Akers told the AP. "Right now, he's receiving medical treatment over there. I don't know the specific location. For whatever reason, he's reluctant to let us know."
Akers said Shahin lost about 50 pounds while in prison and had heart problems. He is receiving medical treatment in the United Arab Emirates, but it's unclear where in the country.
Shahin's wife, Soha Shahin, lives in an upscale neighborhood in Houston. She answered the door to her home on Tuesday but declined comment, referring all questions to Akers.
As CEO of Deyaar, Shahin was one of several Dubai-based property developers who rose to prominence during the emirate's building boom over the last decade. He was arrested as part of a probe into allegations of embezzlement by executives at the company, and authorities later targeted him in other investigations involving alleged financial improprieties. He has denied wrongdoing.
Several businesspeople are under investigation for financial irregularities in the United Arab Emirates that allegedly occurred as the desert country transformed itself into a free-wheeling international business hub.
Shahin began his hunger strike on May 14 to draw attention to his case. He said he feared he was being left in legal limbo because authorities had yet to bring his case to trial.
In a written statement confirming his release, Shahin thanked U.S. officials for pressing his case. He also called on Emirati authorities to consolidate several separate sets of charges against him so his lawyers could mount a more effective defense.
"All I have asked for is the same treatment under the law as other Emirati defendants standing accused of similar charges. Now that Dubai authorities have taken the first step for equal due process for all defendants by granting my bail, I look forward to the opportunity to prove my innocence during a fair, transparent, and open trial," Shahin wrote.
Akers said his client remains in Dubai, and plans to attend his court hearings.
Local media have reported on a wave of hunger strikes in recent months in prisons in the United Arab Emirates among inmates jailed on financial crimes, including issuing bad checks.
American officials in the Emirates took an unusually public role in advocating for Shahin as his health deteriorated. The pressure risked opening a rare diplomatic rift with the country — one of Washington's closest Arab allies — at a time when traditional U.S. relationships elsewhere in the Middle East are being tested by instability in the region.
The seven-state country, which includes the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is OPEC's third largest oil producer. It maintains strong economic ties with the U.S. and hosts important American air bases and other strategic sites.
Shahin began eating again last week after authorities agreed to set bail for his release, according to one of his U.S.-based lawyers. He was required to post 5 million dirhams ($1.4 million) bail and surrender his passport along with that of a guarantor to secure his pre-trial release.
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