DUBAI, (Reuters) – Prosecutors in the Gulf Arab emirate of Dubai have charged a former minister with embezzling public funds and “harming state interests”, the official WAM news agency reported.
The charges represent a turning point in an anti-corruption campaign launched last year as the Gulf Arab emirate’s real estate bubble began to burst amid the global financial downturn.
Dubai, one of seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates, and neighboring Gulf Arab states have also sought to repair perceptions of the lack of transparency.
The prosecutors accused Mohammed bin Kharbash, a former minister of state for finance and industry, of harming public interests and aiding Zack Shahin, ex-chief executive of Deyaar Development, to seize the real estate company’s funds and receiving bribes, according to WAM.
Dubai prosecutors referred the accused to the criminal court and charged another 10 people in connection with the Deyaar probe, including Saad Abdul Razak, former chief executive of Dubai Islamic Bank said.
Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum said last year nobody would be above the law, a promise taken to mean business leaders would not be exempt, no matter what their social status. The campaign has snared a number of well-known business figures.
The emirate, a self-styled tourism and finance hub that boasts few natural resources of its own, has benefited from a $10 billion bailout from the UAE’s central bank, whose strength stems from the oil wealth of neighboring emirate Abu Dhabi.
Dubai’s head of public prosecution Essam Humaidan said the charges took months to draft due to the complexity of the case.
“Investigations concerning accounting, which took a long time due to the numerous facts and suspects, have revealed financial corruption worth tens of millions,” Humaidan said in the WAM statement. He did not elaborate.
Kharbash was chairman of the Dubai Islamic Bank and Deyaar’s chairman, a post he left early last year. Kharbash did not respond to attempts to contact him for comment.
U.S. national Shahin, who has been in police custody since March last year, has also been charged with “betrayal of trust, embezzlement and fraud”. Shahin has denied the charges through a recent statement issued by his U.S.-based attorney.
“Dubai’s prosecutor has become increasingly aggressive with trying to charge Zack (Shahin) since his plight has become public,” Shahin’s attorney said in a statement in March.
Shahin’s attorney was not immediately available for comment.