Robert Pether, the Australian-born engineer resident in Co Roscommon with his wife and children, has been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and fined $12 million by an Iraqi court.
The sentence, handed down earlier this week, applies also to Mr Pether’s Egyptian-born colleague, Khalid Radwan. Both men had been working on a new headquarters in Baghdad for the Central Bank of Iraq when they were arrested without explanation last April.
Mr Pether’s wife, Desree Pether – who lives in Elphin with the couple’s children, teenage sons Flynn and Oscar and daughter Nala (8) – is distraught at the development.
“They have committed no crime,” she posted on social media. “This is a malicious prosecution, a complete fabrication.”
Mr Pether was arrested while in the offices of the head of the bank and has remained incarcerated since but has not been told specifically what is alleged against him. He appears to have become ensnared in a dispute over money between his employer, CME Consulting which in 2015 won a $33 million contract relating to the construction of the Zaha Hadid-designed new Central Bank offices, a landmark building on the bank of the Tigris river, and the Iraqi government.
‘Living in hell’
The Australian government has made representations to the Iraqi authorities on behalf of Mr Pether but, despite requests from his Irish resident family, the Government has declined to involve itself.
In July, when The Irish Times reported on the case, the Department of Foreign Affairs said: “Our embassies and consulates cannot directly intervene in the internal affairs or processes of another jurisdiction, including the provision of consular assistance to citizens of that jurisdiction.”
According to the National, a media organisation based in the United Arab Emirates, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it understood Mr Pether and his colleague had been found guilty of fraud.
“We are devastated and living in hell right now,” said Desree Pather. “Iraq is not a safe place to work.”
Mr Pether’s case has been taken up by six international lawyers who have petitioned the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to intervene.
“This is a very, very egregious case. It is just blackmail,” according to one of the lawyers who have petitioned the UN, French arbitration lawyer Pierre Pic.