“Tell your mother and your sister that I love them. Thank you very much for your help. This is where it ends for me. I do not have the strength to fight anymore . . . . I’d rather die than go back to jail in Dubai.”
These are the words of André Gauthier, in a text message to his son Alexis in April this year. Gauthier is a 65-year-old Canadian citizen, who was one of the first shareholders of UAE firm GOLD AE. During his time at the company, he was charged with investigating one of the biggest financial frauds in UAE history. In a cruel irony, he later found himself wrongfully charged with complicity in the very fraud he had played a key role in exposing. His story, like many others, tells of another innocent victim of the corrupt legal system in the Gulf state.
Gauthier has worked in the gold business in many different countries, over a number of decades, advising mining companies on development strategies. He began working with GOLD AE in 2013 and soon became a minority shareholder. As a highly experienced professional, Gauthier brought investors from around the world to Gold AE, advertising great opportunities for lucrative returns.
Despite the excitement of his new position, Gauthier began to notice signs of corruption early on. He claims that the majority shareholder refused to let him review the company accounts and would often become evasive when he asked pointed questions about Gold AE’s finances. Upon inspection of the company’s books, Gauthier discovered that almost $30 million was missing and that the company had been in a state of insolvency for quite some time. The cash was being syphoned off into the personal accounts of company executives. Gauthier was not working for Gold AE when the fraud began, and he had no access to the accounts. He alerted Sheikh Sultan bin Sultan Khalifa al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family; and expressed his concerns. Sheikh Sultan was chairman of Gold Holdings of which Gold AE was a subsidiary.
Upon hearing the news, the Sheikh ordered a meeting of shareholders to discuss the issue, but before the meeting could take place most of the executives fled the country. It is alleged that Gold AE’s director Muhammad Abu Alhaj, was the prime architect and beneficiary of the embezzlement. In a strange twist, Mr Alhaj later fled to Canada, where it is alleged he committed more financial crimes, and has since moved on again.
Gauthier was then tasked by Sheikh Sultan to recover as much of the stolen money as possible. According to activist group Detained in Dubai, which is representing Gauthier: “the former owner and managing director personally contacted Gold AE clients, to deflect from his own guilt, inciting them to file complaints against the new management of the company; so that Sheikh Sultan, André, and others would be held accountable for his fraud. Over 100 complaints were filed, Gold AE was suspended from trading, and eventually, André himself was arrested.”
According to Gauthier’s son Alexis: “Everyone advised my father to leave the UAE to avoid being arrested for someone else’s crimes, but he felt a responsibility to the investors and other shareholders to try to fix what had happened. He didn’t want to just leave it like that. But in December 2015, they detained him without charge and kept him over a year. By the time he was finally let go, they retained his passport to keep him in the UAE. After years of fighting this, my father could see he had no chance of a fair hearing in that country, so he made his way to Oman.”
From a safe-house in Oman, Gauthier acquired emergency travel documents and attempted to return to Canada. However, he was arrested at the airport in Muscat, Oman and detained. He was then extradited back to the UAE, where he is currently detained awaiting trial in a prison in Dubai. Both of Gauthier’s parents passed away during this ordeal.
“Human rights abuses are rampant in the UAE.”
“Human rights abuses are rampant in the UAE,” said Radha Sterling, CEO of Detained in Dubai. “André’s safety would be at tremendous risk in Emirates’ custody. He suffers from high blood pressure and would undoubtedly be denied access to medical care.” The level of injustice in Gauthier’s case is extreme, even by the standards of the UAE: not only is he innocent, but he was instrumental in exposing the crime of which he is accused.
Canadian politician Richard Martel, MP has recently commented on the case of Mr Gauthier, who is one of his constituents. “The current situation is totally unacceptable, and Mr. Gauthier needs to be brought back to Canada without further delays. It has already been far too long,” he said.
Many have criticized the current Canadian administration, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for its sluggishness in coming to Gauthier’s aid.
Stirling, for example, expressed disappointment with “the inactivity of the Trudeau administration.” She asserted that Canadian authorities are “entirely familiar with André’s case, and are fully aware of his innocence . . . . However, what is actually happening on the ground reveals either Canada’s indifference to André’s plight, or else the UAE’s indifference to Canada’s concerns.”
Gauthier has even been exonerated by an expert report, which was commissioned by the Dubai Ruler’s Court during the initial investigation into the fraud.
Gauthier has even been exonerated by an expert report, which was commissioned by the Dubai Ruler’s Court during the initial investigation into the fraud. The report confirmed that Gauthier was not employed by Gold AE in any capacity at the time of the fraud and that he had no access to the relevant accounts. Yet, as Stirling points out: “[Gauthier] has lost years of his life, and stands to lose his remaining years, if Canada does not actively intervene to secure his release.”
“The Trudeau government has done next to nothing to help,” asserts Alexis. “The court process in the UAE is just going on as it has been for the last 4 years, and the Canadian government is just passively watching my father’s life drain away week after week.”
This kind of injustice is all too common in the Gulf, and shedding light on it might be the only way to impel the Canadian government and the relevant international bodies to act while there is still time.