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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Movement made in cases of French expats ‘trapped’ in Qatar


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With reporting from Riham Sheble

After nearly five years in limbo, Stéphane Morello, a French football trainer, has finally obtained an exit permit to leave Qatar, he has told Doha News.

“It is a good day,” he said, when reached by phone today, an hour after receiving his documents.

But while Morello is smiling, at least three other Frenchmen continue to seek their own permissions to leave Qatar, with mixed results.

That includes footballer Zahir Belounis and businessmen Nasser Al-Awartany and Jean-Pierre Marongiu, who reportedly tried to flee Qatar on a kayak earlier this year.

Belounis, who said he has been stuck here since February after filing a lawsuit against Al Jaish over 18 months of unpaid wages, told Doha News today that he is optimistic he’ll be granted his exit visa early next week.

This week’s developments come amid an ongoing charm offensive between the two countries that includes a new marketing partnership between the Qatar Tourism Authority and football club Paris Saint-Germain.

The deal, which was formally announced this week, is thought to be worth roughly $800 million. Additionally, Qatar Railways Co. said this week that it was heading to Paris in November to attract investment and new business partners for this country’s transportation projects.

The movement on these files drew cautious praise from one human rights advocate.

“This positive development hopefully signals Qatar’s intentions to get rid of the exit visa system,” Nick McGeehan, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, told Doha News. “Those who argue for its retention clearly don’t understand the damage it is doing to Qatar’s reputation not to mention the ruinous effects it has on people trapped in Qatar.”

The case of Stéphane Morello

Morello, 52, said he will try to fly to Dubai or Bahrain this weekend to test his exit visa. Assuming it’s valid, he said he will return to France in December with his wife and three youngest children, who attend school in Qatar.

Morello moved to this country in 2007 to work for the Qatar Olympic Committee, which hired him out to local football teams.

His problems arose in January 2009 while working at Al-Shamal sports club. He said the team wanted to change coaches and terminated his contract, but refused to pay the money owed to him under the employment agreement.

Despite formally resigning from the Olympic Committee in 2010, he said his employment permit continued to be renewed even though he was not allowed to work or obtain an exit visa.

Morello cleared a major hurdle earlier this fall when his sponsorship was transferred to the French embassy. However, he was told he could not leave the country until he repaid four years’ worth of housing costs – worth an estimated QR1.2 million ($342,325).

Morello said the matter was resolved when he signed a form acknowledging the debt last week, which was then forgiven by the Qatari government in full.

The coach, who said he still plans to sue the Olympic Committee over unpaid wages, added that he is experiencing mixed emotions:

“I am free. I can leave the country and move around (like) a normal human being. But I continue to think – they took me prisoner here for five years. They don’t want to recognize that.”

Zahir Belounis

Speaking separately to Doha News on Thursday, the 33-year-old French footballer said there were “just a few details” that needed to be sorted before he would obtain a promised exit visa.

Specifically, he said he still needed to submit a copy of the agreement that states the termination of his contract.

“I’m trying to be strong … (but) it is very difficult,” he said, adding that he was optimistic he would receive permission to leave Qatar by early next week.

Belounis signed a five-year contract in 2010 that saw him play for Al Jaish sports club. Problems arose when in the second half of 2011, when he was transferred to Al Markhiya, which he said stopped paying his wages.

He sued, and was told he would not be granted an exit visa unless he abandoned his legal claims.

Now, however, Belounis said he hopes to be able to leave Qatar while his case is still before the courts, although he said he is no longer focused on the lawsuit.

“I don’t think about the case. Just about my family,” he said, declining to say how much money he was seeking.

Belounis, who is living in Qatar with his wife and two young daughters, has already sold off his furniture in anticipation of his move.

Jean-Pierre Marongiu

Meanwhile, a third French citizen was back in court this week on fraud-related charges and was remanded in custody.

Jean-Pierre Marongiu is accused of issuing checks on behalf of his joint business venture in Qatar without the required co-signature of his business partner or adequate funds in the company’s account, according to one of his supporters, Yves-Marie Pendeliau.

On Wednesday, a judge dropped one of the charges after Marongiu repaid the amount of the bad checks, a spokesman for his lawyer, Mubarak Johar El-Ali, confirmed. He would not specify the amount repaid or provide any other details about the hearing. He did acknowledge, however, that Marongiu still faced separate charges related to bad checks.

The French citizen’s legal woes deepened earlier this year when he allegedly fled Qatar without permission by boat and landed in Bahrain, where authorities returned him here.

The status of that case is unclear. Pendeliau said a fine was paid as a penalty, which should have resolved the matter.

According to his supporters, Marongiu has been on a hunger strike for more than four weeks. That claim was called into question this week by the French government, whose embassy officials have met with Marongiu in prison on several occasions.

“During these visits we were able to verify that his health did not appear to be in danger,” Romain Nadal, a spokesperson for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Wednesday, according to an official translation of his remarks.

When viewed in court by Doha News earlier this week, Marongiu was able to stand by himself, and had full cheeks and tan skin, despite reports that he had been subsisting on water and tea for the past month.

Nasser Al-Awartany

At least one other French citizen is also in Qatar and unable to leave.

Nasser Al-Awartany recently said in a meeting attended by Doha News that he came to Qatar and invested several thousand dollars into a business he later learned was mortgaged to the bank.

He launched a lawsuit and subsequently encountered challenges obtaining an exit visa.

French Foreign Affairs official Nadal also addressed Al-Awartany’s case:

“It relates to a dispute between two business associates. Since they both filed a complaint against each other, the case was brought before the Qatari courts. Qatar’s minister of foreign affairs indicated on October 27 to our ambassador that he hoped that a solution could be found quickly so that an exit visa could be granted, while the judicial process is continuing to follow its course in the Qatari courts.”

Speaking this week to Doha News, French ambassador Jean-Christophe Peaucelle said the embassy was pleased with the progress made, but cautioned against drawing parallels between the cases beyond the fact that they all involves French citizens living in this country.

“We work a lot with the Qatari authorities to solve these cases, which are all different from one another. I see a lot of goodwill from the Qatari authorities and I hope these cases can be solved in a fair way as quickly as possible.”



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8 years ago

Do they think if they pretend something didn’t happen the problem will just go away. The Qatar judicial system needs to deal with these problems in a speedy way. Taking 5 years to come to a conclusion is not acceptable. Especially when ones livelihood is at stake (and the knock on effects to their family).

These are just a few cases I’m sure which have made it to the public attention because of the nationalities involved. I wonder how many other poor souls find themselves incarcarated or trapped in Qatar through the abuse of the Kafalla system and the slowness in which justice occurs in Qatar.

It took 7 months for the courts to decide that I was falsely accused of raping a 9 year old Qatari girl. I spent 2 weeks in jail and trapped in the country for 7 months all because a father wanted an answer to why his daughter had a rash on her face and jumped to conclusions. Even though I was found not guilty after the court of first instance and also the appeals court (the father appealed the decision despite adding nothing new to the case) I still found myself being deported and losing out financially in the process of our all.

My claim for defamation has now been in the courts for 2 years. When will justice in Qatar truly be served. Being allowed to leave to the country is not justice which reflects poorly on Qatar.

What was the final result for Dorje? I’m sure that hasn’t been properly resolved. who was at fault?

People are not stupid. They do not forget. I would love to hear answers.

8 years ago
Reply to  hohum

Professor Dorje had to leave without being compensated of a false accusation. It was very unfair. Yes, the system is unfair.

8 years ago

@hohum. This matter needs to be taken up with international courts…

regarding dorje gurung… a similar story happened in Australia for an Indian Doctor whose cousin was involved in Glasgow . he was kept on detention for 1/2 weeks.. finally he approached the court and he got the compensation of an undisclosed amount .. it was millions for 1/2 weeks of detention… for 1/2 week Haneef disclosed that the amount was “substantial” according to him…-….haneef’s case was fought in Australian court where the law is unbaised…story below….
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12049120 ….
now you guys read between the lines ….

8 years ago
Reply to  Ano

Australia is able to admit mistakes, Qatar is yet show any recognition of the failings within their judicial system.

The biggest mistakes made in my case would have to be the ease in which an accusation can put somebody behind bars, particularly if the accuser is Qatari and the accused is not.

Im Australian myself and I am a bit familiar with the Haneef case. For me I can not begin to make comparisons to how we were detained.

Haneef was locked up in fear of an inevitable terrorist attacked, which I agree was totally unacceptable.

For me I was locked up on the word of a nine year old’s accusation which originated from 3 weeks of questioning from family members about her facial rash.

Guilty sentencing for either accusation is a terrifying prospect for either country.

Initial police reports stated that she could not explain the rash for 3 weeks until a 4 hour talk with her Aunty in the 3rd week where she allegedly told her Aunty that I raped her. To me it doesn’t take much police investigation to suggest the words could have been put in her mouth. The police even showed me a false doctors report stating that I raped her. These documents never reappeared in the courts. The official medical documents were of the contrary.

My entire experience of the Qatar Judicial system was that they were trying to appease the father and save face. I felt that in the end I was going to be found not guilty but that the system was going to do everything in its power to punish me up until then.

1) 2 weeks in jail until the official medical report was completed

2) Prosecutor taking a month to make a decision to take me to court despite poor police witness statements and the medical report

3) postponing court dates

4) Waiting for the aunty to attend court to give evidence

5) appealing the decision 2 weeks after the result of the court of first instance

6) court allowing the appeal despite having no new evidence (they never attended the appeals court)

7) travel ban continuing beyond being found not guilty in the appeals court

8) being allowed to travel for summer but then finding out just before planned easter break that you are being deported and another travel ban is in place (oh the irony).

9)having said travel ban lifted days before planned flight (possible extension on deportation notice)and on return finding out that this will be my restricted life in Qatar.

10) Being refused a police clearance certificate despite having no convictions

11) Being deported after doing nothing wrong and having the courts to back me up.

Who is the victim?
Who was punished?
Who made mistakes?

8 years ago

It is stupid to know that some that wrote bad cheques is in prison, but the 5 responsible for the dead of the children in villagio are still free and doing what ever they want to. The Qatari law are pretty good in putting expats in jail/refused their exit but when it is Qatari nationals involve, well we all know what happen…. Nothing!!!

8 years ago

great pubblicity for Qatar tourism! Keep on!!!

johnny wang
johnny wang
8 years ago
Reply to  fullmoon07

We could have “Hotel California” as the theme song…. U can come in anytime you like but can never leave…………………..

Peter Smith
Peter Smith
8 years ago

That is exactly how you attract tourists to Qatar! You let them in but never let them out…Everyone will come!!!

8 years ago

thank god for Qatar government so generous of them to forgive him , bunch of idiots trying to escape what they bought upon them selves,also funny each one of them had money problems

8 years ago
Reply to  Aisha

One only needs forgiveness is they have done wrong. Would love to hear from you particularly what you think the footballer and the trainer did wrong. Can you also explain why it takes 5 years of imprisoning a person and their family in a country, refusing them the right to work, just to come to a decision on who is right or wrong.

Why would the club be willing for him to leave only if he withdrew his legal claims against the club? Why do Qataris even have the power to do so? What are they afraid of?

Ive been unfortunate enough to have been falsely imprisoned in Qatar and I can tell you many people in prison are there for financial (civil) reasons. Many say they are there because their Qatari partner or employer accused them of mismanagement.

From my own experience of being falsely imprisoned by an accusation from a Qatari, it doesn’t seem too out of this world to see Qatari police imprisoning someone because the majority Qatari business owner said that they were at fault.

I think there is more to this story than you know.

I would be interest in your thoughts.

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