Three former Al Jazeera Children’s Channel executives who have been on trial for financial mismanagement have had their case postponed until October, after appearing in court twice for an expected verdict.
The defendants are JCC’s former executive general manager Mahmoud Bouneb, a Tunisian-Canadian, and his Moroccan wife, the station’s former programming director Malika Alouane, as well as Palestinian expat Haitham Qudaih, the ex-cost controller.
They and roughly 30 others were fired from the channel in September 2011. Since then, the three have not been able to leave Qatar, and in February of 2013 were charged with mismanaging approximately QR3.1 million (US$851,460) over eight years.
Last week, the defendants and a host of supporters, including the Tunisian ambassador to Qatar, filled the courtroom, expecting to hear their verdict. The group had expressed hope after in a rare legal move, they were allowed to address the court and present evidence in their defense during a hearing in late May.
However, while Judge Abdullah Al Emadi announced several court decisions last week, he said the JCC case verdict would be postponed for seven more days to “complete deliberations.”
Yesterday, Al Emadi decided to delay the decision further, saying that a technical committee from Qatar Radio and Qatar Television would be formed to examine whether overspending took place on any JCC programs during Bouneb’s eight-year tenure.
The court also ordered the defendants to pay QR10,000 as preliminary fees for the committee to start its work. The money should be deposited at court when the committee will be appointed on July 17.
The panel can listen to testimony from any witnesses and defendants, and findings must be presented under oath on Oct. 1.
According to official court documents:
“If the committee decides that the actual cost of production does not match the documented figure, the committee has to specify what the cost of production at that time would have been, the discrepancy in figures, who would be responsible for that, evidence for that responsibility, how this discrepancy happened, and all the harms that were caused the plaintiff (JCC) in the process.”
In previous hearings, witnesses from 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.”
While Bouneb faces charges of overspending on programs, his wife’s accusations centered around her housing allowance, while Qudaih’s involved usage of the company credit card.
The three said they have not been able to work in Doha since they were fired in 2011, and the financial toll has been growing.
Speaking to Doha News, the defendants expressed concern that the committee would ask for extensions to complete their task of analyzing all the programming, which Bouneb said amounted to 3,000 television hours of programming between 2005-2011.
In a statement, they said:
“We feel great anger and frustration as we were looking for closure. We respect the court decision although we do not understand the objectives behind it as JCC production and programming have been audited for about a year by the Prosecution, the National Audit Bureau and Ernst &Young’s experts who did not find any wrongdoing.
What is the use of another audit except gaining time? We simply do not feel right about this. We have already lost 3 years of our lives away from our loved ones. Isn’t it enough?”