British businessman:" Why am I still in a Dubai prison two years after my pardon
For one blissful moment, Michael Smith thought the person waking him at 4.45 on Christmas morning was his former wife, Ning. But reality soon dawned. Smith, a British businessman, was being roused from his sleep by one of five people sharing his prison cell in Dubai. A Tanzanian man doing time for drug crimes had misread his watch and thought it was time for breakfast.
Ning was at home in Thailand.
It was Smith’s sixth Christmas Day behind bars, despite being pardoned and told he was about to be freed two-and-a-half years ago. ‘Forgive me if I say I didn’t feel very festive,’ he told The Mail on Sunday in a phone call from jail.
Smith’s case – as this newspaper first revealed in March 2015 – is truly Kafkaesque. In 2007, the 50-year-old from West London started a £150,000 tax-free job at Dubai World, the property empire owned by Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum.
In 2008, shortly before the firm went bust owing £40 billion, Smith resigned, having tried unsuccessfully to persuade bosses to act on evidence he had unearthed of corruption. This seems to have made him enemies.
He and Ning returned to Thailand. But in July 2009, Smith was arrested by local police and accused of stealing £100 million from Dubai World – which he denies. Eventually, this sum was reduced to £550,000. Meanwhile, Smith was detained for more than two years at the notorious ‘Bangkok Hilton’ jail fighting extradition to Dubai.
After becoming infected with HIV from a dirty prison needle used by a nurse to lance an abscess, Smith dropped his extradition battle and returned to the Gulf. He was assured by the Dubai prosecutors that even if convicted, his sentence would be only three years, and that the time he had served in Thailand would count towards it.
Instead, Smith was sentenced to 12 years, later reduced to six on appeal. However, almost every prisoner in Dubai is automatically given a pardon or ‘ruler’s amnesty’ at the halfway point of their sentence – which in Smith’s case was in 2012. In vain, he sought an explanation, as well as help from the British Consulate, only to be told repeatedly that the UK could not ‘intervene’.
The pardon finally came in June 2014, yet even then he was not freed. A prison official told him informally that to be released, he would have to ‘pay back’ the £550,000 he had supposedly stolen. By now, he was penniless. The Dubai authorities have told the British Consulate that Smith is lying, and was jailed for only 72 days in Bangkok, not 747 – a claim that flies in the face of stamped and signed Thai documents seen by the MoS.
‘Either this is incompetence on an epic scale, or someone really has it in for me,’ Smith said. ‘Yet the British have been useless. I don’t expect them to park a gunboat off the coast but they have done nothing.’
Recently, Smith was told he may be released in October this year, but he said: ‘After what happened in 2014, how can I believe them?’
The most painful moment of Smith’s Christmas Day came when he spoke to Ning on the phone.
He said: ‘It was wonderful to hear her voice. But then I found myself telling her that a year from now, all this would be over. Then it hit me: I’ve been telling her that every Christmas since 2012.’
The Foreign Office said: ‘We are continuing to seek clarification of his release date from the Emirati authorities.’