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Monday, March 8, 2021

Former JCC executive blasts ‘shameful’ prosecution as trial resumes

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bouneb!

With reporting from Amin Isaac

Three former executives of Al Jazeera Children’s Channel (JCC) returned to a Doha courtroom Tuesday, more than two years after being fired from their positions and issued a travel ban amid accusations of financial impropriety.

During the hearing, officials from Qatar’s State Audit Bureau testified that they found insufficient supporting documentation for several travel claims and that former manager Mahmoud Bouneb signed dozens of contracts over an eight-year period without obtaining the required co-signature of a board member.

However, they said they found no evidence that any money went missing or was improperly spent. Bouneb – a Tunisian-Canadian who appeared in court with Moroccan Malika Alouane, his wife and former programming director of the station, as well as Palestinian Haitham Qudaih, a former cost controlling manager – called the ongoing proceedings “shameful.”

While admitting in an interview with Doha News to “administrative transgressions,” the 58-year-old said he always operated within the appropriate framework and that none of his actions came close to criminality.

“There were no clear violations,” he said.

Bouneb attributed his mistakes to the stress of managing a TV studio with a heavy production schedule.

“Sometimes, you need to make a decision on the spot.”

Background

Bouneb moved to Doha in 1999 and began working to launch JCC – which was owned by Qatar Foundation until the Al Jazeera Media Network acquired it earlier this year – in 2003.

After eight years with the station, he and roughly 30 members of the channel’s senior staff were terminated. In short order, a travel ban was placed on several of those who were sacked. They have since been lifted, except on Bouneb, Alouane and Qudaih.

Bouneb said the three stand accused of mismanaging approximately QR3.1 million (US$851,460) over eight years.

Last year, separate investigations by the Qatar National Audit Bureau and accounting firm Ernst & Young cleared the trio of any criminal wrongdoing. The E&Y report stated:

“The committee concludes that what was possible to note from the inspection was that there are some administrative misconducts.

However, there is no way to say that the Channel’s employees, whose names appear in the claim, have committed any embezzlement crimes or harmed intentionally the Channel funds.”

Nevertheless, the three, who have not been jailed, were formally charged earlier this year (see timeline).

The accusations

Contracts valued at more than US$1 million (QR3.64 million) required the signatures of both Bouneb and a member of the JCC board. However, National Audit Bureau investigators found 62 contracts that lacked a second signature.

Bouneb said most of these related to the station’s satellite uplink, staff housing or commissioned programs. In many cases, they were time-sensitive arrangements that would have been jeopardized if there was a delay in finalizing the agreement, he said, adding that it was not always possible to obtain a second signature in a timely manner.

Bouneb argued his actions were “needed” and that the contracts were examined in annual external audits as well as regular financial reviews by the board.

“If there were problems during the eight years of my management, would they not have been raised before now?”

National Audit Bureau investigators also examined Bouneb’s travel claims and found that all expenses were supported by receipts and that in most cases, the justification for trips were properly documented. In a few cases, however, a form explaining the purpose of the trip was not filed.

Bouneb told Doha News that his office almost always filled out the proper paperwork and that any missing forms were “exceptions.”

It was also suggested during Tuesday’s four-and-a-half-hour hearing that Alouane kept possession of a company-provided residence while collecting a housing allowance that she started receiving after the couple got married.

Bouneb called that accusation “nonsense.” He said Alouane, 45, moved into his villa after they married and informed the channel’s human resources department that her residence was vacant.

“What is the use of keeping two houses in the same compound?” he asked.

What’s next

The trio’s next court hearing is scheduled for Dec. 26. In the meantime, they remain unable to leave or work in Qatar due to kafala system rules, which is taking its financial toll.

Qudaih, 37, told Doha News in September that he had already depleted his savings, while Bouneb said he has cashed in his pension in Switzerland, where he was based for 17 years.

Bouneb said that from his perspective, more than a decade of “loyalty and full transparency” to Qatar has been answered with an “immoral” prosecution lacking any serious allegations of criminality.

“No fraud, no embezzlement, nothing,” he said. “They’ve taken two years of our lives.”

42 COMMENTS

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DickDePilot
DickDePilot
7 years ago

Can we please have a “Happy news story” on Doha News please? Surely there is one there that isn’t just propaganda?

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago
Reply to  DickDePilot

see image for answer

DickDePilot
DickDePilot
7 years ago

LOL

Shabina921
Shabina921
7 years ago
Reply to  DickDePilot

Lol! Does the anime story count??

DickDePilot
DickDePilot
7 years ago
Reply to  Shabina921

I must have missed that one 😉

Susan
Susan
7 years ago

I cannot even imagine the frustration that these people must feel. They have the patience of Job himself. Here’s hoping that once this case is resolved, they can file a civil suit against Al Jazeera for mental/emotional anguish and at least get a sum of money to make up for the TWO YEARS that they were essentially unable to work elsewhere or leave Qatar.
And let others who choose to come here for seemingly lucrative contracts be warned: justice is slow and laws in Qatar greatly favor the nationals who employ you, and they can mess with you for YEARS if they so choose.

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago
Reply to  Susan

your assuming there not guilty i

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
7 years ago

That is the assumption that legal systems are built on. You don’t have to prove it, the prosecution has to prove guilt.

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago

i agree but you cant in that case label every ongoing trail as a great injustice before its over

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
7 years ago

Agreed.

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
7 years ago

you are assuming they are!

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago
Reply to  fullmoon07

nope, i am not calling for there heads nor am i defending them to the death. im just waiting until more details are revealed before i take a stand unlike some people who will just defend or condemn someone based on wither he wears a suit or a thobe

Susan
Susan
7 years ago

I am concluding (based upon the info reported thus far) that no intentional mismanagement of monies occurred, because that’s what the facts appear to support. Even if some crime did occur, the laws here that allow people to be held indefinitely without the right to work and make a living while they wait YEARS for the painfully slow court system here to address their case is both immoral and untenable.
My bet is that even if they wanted to counter-sue for damages after the fact, it would likely entail additional YEARS in Qatar as the case crept through the justice system (where people don’t show up and so the judge just postpones things again for 2-3 months later) — so most people choose not pursue things because after so long already, they just want to get out of Qatar and see their families again.

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago
Reply to  Susan

completly agree that the legal system is way to slow and the kafala system stopping people from working while there waiting is just wrong. that being said the facts presented in this article do not proof guilt or innocence yet you seem to have already decided these guys have the patience of prophets and no greater injustice has befallen mankind since slavery. also hate to break it to ya but laws do not always favor nationals, the legal system is more”crappy” than biased

Lisa Clayton
Lisa Clayton
7 years ago

LOL And that last line “the legal system is more crappy than biased” is so true, my friend. And in more places than Qatar :-p

MIMH
MIMH
7 years ago

So even if found not guilty Al Jazeer and Qatar’s judical system will financially ruin you and make it hard for you to obtain work again in your field. If found not guilty then there should be compensation awarded for loss of earnings during the period held capitve in Qatar, future lost earnings and damages related to curtailed career prospects paid by the employer.

In this way you can stop purely vinidictive or political cases against individuals.

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
7 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

right! And it is QF, not Al Jazeera, although they were called JCC

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

if found not guilty they should sue for financial losses

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
7 years ago

As I understand it, no such provision exists in Qatari law.

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago

i know someone that was sued for lost of future earnings (although the guy i know just payed up and didnt go to court) so im sure some kind of law exists that they can use but the legal system is a pain in the neck and just slow as hell

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago

“administrative transgressions” we all know what that means

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
7 years ago

That they live in Qatar and that they experience the usual level of rigour and rule following? Administratively, I have never seen anywhere as fast and loose with the rules except for China.

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago

so i live in a place where people play fast and loose with the rules so i can do the same? no that doesn’t fly you break the rules you should be punished within the extent of the law no matter who you are or where your from

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
7 years ago

He has a point Ivan; if you choose to break the rules because “everyone else does”, you have to be ready to deal with the reality that you may not be able to get away with like everyone else.

Kingpin
Kingpin
7 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

That makes it confusing for everyone, no?

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
7 years ago
Reply to  Kingpin

To the maximum. Which is why I try my best to always have everything I do at work be documented via e-mails and such.

Kingpin
Kingpin
7 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

Good advice in any job.

Myrddin
Myrddin
7 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

A very sound philosophy!

However, for the very same reasons, many executive managers avoid giving instructions in writing, to side-step a paper-trail back to their door.

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
7 years ago
Reply to  Myrddin

Which is why you email your notes of every verbal meeting to the managers immediately after, just to make sure you are clear on what was discussed and agreed upon, together with an invitation to correct any misunderstandings. My experience in Qatar was that no one ever bothers replying.

Myrddin
Myrddin
7 years ago

Agreed Ivan!
Though most times, in my position, that may not be an option – too much doing, no time to document instructions. Also, even publicly documenting instructions, is tantamount to subversion?

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
7 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

Hmmm, I need to clarify as I expressed myself poorly. I would say that I witnessed more “administrative transgressions’ than I did proper flow of paperwork. I saw little willful corruption or deceit, but rather the constant change of undertrained staff, lost documents, changing policies, etc.

In my world in Qatar, that was the norm, rather than the exception. No ill intent or deceit on anyone’s part, but if inspected it would be rare that I would have been be to have said that every document and decision was fully compliant with every rule – that is just the nature of the system.

Being non-compliant with your organization’s administrative policies is not a crime.

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
7 years ago

The law does not punish you for breaking rules, it punishes you for breaking laws. If he had ‘administrative transgressions’ then the company will punish internally, not via the courts. They’re not the same thing by any stretch.

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago

thats why i said we all know what “administrative transgressions” means its a term that means i did what ever the hell i wanted rules (or laws) be damned

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
7 years ago

Hmm, I guess that’s the problem, we don’t know what it means without more detail. Stay tuned to this channel.

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
7 years ago

“If there were problems during the eight years of my management, would they not have been raised before now?” Good question.

Pete
Pete
7 years ago

Is it not neccessary for there to be some kind of evidence to prosecute? The only evidence mentioned Ernst and Young report) vindicates the accused of any crime. Where I come from the judge would throw it out of court.

Lisa Clayton
Lisa Clayton
7 years ago

“Why would anybody keep 2 houses in the same compound?” To rent one out for extra cash.

Am i the only one who thinks there might be something to the accusations? i’m not excusing abuse the may or may not exist, but i’ve had a number of former students who worked for various AJ entities. From what they said & what I saw there was a lot of abuse in the hiring practice & salary structure. Expat Arabs (mostly Palestinians related through family or within a close circle of friends) ruled, to the extent that they basically ignored & failed to train Qataris to reach their full potential.

At one point I approached the AJ Documentary Film Festival because outside of Doha Tribecca, I was one of the few people in Doha with connections to filmmakers, knowledgable enough in terms of the issues related to global documentary film production & its industry, with organizational & communications experience to help elevate that film festival into the international arena of Documentary Filmmaking & Festivals; rather than continue to limp along as an under-developed & under-utilized resource that couldn’t even get a promotional plan together & often didn’t have the schedule of events organized & publicized prior to the 2nd day of the festival (which is only a 2-3 day event anyway). I was teaching Film History & Theory at the time (and have taught Documentary Film courses) and just thought it would be a good way to give something to the wider community (which is what every faculty member from foreign universities should do, in my opinion). I could have arranged for students to intern with them & even work the festival (a great way to get community involvement). The director had no interest whatsoever. They basically didn’t build in a monthly plan to use the whole year effectively & started working on it about 4-6 weeks prior to opening, which explains the poor organization.

When the previous General Director of the network was there, it was widely repeated that he presided over a Palestinian “mafia” who usually got their way (as well as big salaries & perks) by simply not considering the ideas or arguments put forth by anyone else. Does it surprise anyone to know that even with his negotiated resignation & subsequent replacement, that he is still paid his full salary (only now collecting it as a “consultant”) & living in Qatar. And this is a longterm arrangement (at least 8 more years).

I know I’ve strayed a bit but I wanted to get across was that there is indeed great potential for corruption at Al Jazeera and every similar business in which Khaleejis are providing the economic means to develop businesses, media outlets, and cultural initiatives, while maintaining strict financial oversight & demanding deliverables that include training & employing citizens to be able to fill more and varied roles within a wide range of organizations.
In the end, would you write a check for over 7 figures and not demand more accountability, development & a plan for how eventually employing a majority of nationals?

I wouldn’t. And I wouldn’t accept “administrative transgressions” when it comes to someone entrusted with my money.

Lastly, the main issue I have in cases like these is the time it takes to resolve them, coupled with the travel ban and inability to get work while the system drags on at a tortoise’s pace.

Lisa Clayton
Lisa Clayton
7 years ago
Reply to  Lisa Clayton

I get a kick out of the person who gives me a downward arrow at each of y comments, even when they espouse his own views :-p

Q reader
Q reader
7 years ago
Reply to  Lisa Clayton

Thank you for this detail. So, the “AJCC trio” or North African mafia is only telling their side of the story ?
They are still paid full salary as a consultant, and are not telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Lisa Clayton
Lisa Clayton
7 years ago
Reply to  Q reader

I am making points about Al Jazeera’s practices to raise potential considerations. But I’m sure you knew that and are just being being a smart*ss :-p

dubious
dubious
7 years ago
Reply to  Lisa Clayton

You could also ask why shouldn’t she keep the house or the housing allowance? That sort of thing is normally specified in your contract as part of her package after all, so if that wasn’t re-negotiated then no foul surely?

KK
KK
7 years ago

“What is the use of keeping two houses in the same compound?” he asked.

I guess you know the answer yourself Mr. Bouneb : to make a little money on the side, right ?

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