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Friday, March 5, 2021

Qatar prosecutor moves to drop charges against former JCC executives

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Mahmoud Bouneb.
Mahmoud Bouneb.

After more than two dozen hearings spanning nearly two years, a local prosecutor has abruptly moved to withdraw criminal charges against three former television executives accused of financial impropriety in Qatar.

However, representatives of the trio’s former employer – Al Jazeera Children’s Channel (JCC) – failed to appear in court yesterday and, despite being notified of the prosecutor’s intentions on Dec. 30, have so far refused to provide a written endorsement of the legal move.

JCC’s sign-off is required to officially terminate the case against former 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.

The three defendants and roughly 30 other station employees were fired in September 2011. They were subsequently accused of financial mismanagement and placed under a travel ban, but did not make their first court appearance until February 2013.

Charges were formally presented in May of that year. Bouneb previously said the three were accused of mismanaging approximately QR3.1 million (US$851,460) over eight years.

Cleared of wrongdoing

Doha criminal court
Doha criminal court

During the ongoing legal proceedings, auditors testified that they found evidence of administrative transgressions, such as neglecting to obtain the necessary approvals for certain projects.

However, witnesses from both the Qatar National Audit Bureau and accounting firm Ernst & Young cleared the trio of any criminal wrongdoing. E&Y concluded that there was “no way” the accused “committed any embezzlement crimes or harmed intentionally the Channel funds.”

A verdict was scheduled to be presented in June 2014. It was first pushed back by a week, then delayed even further when the judge ordered the formation of a technical panel to review the programming produced under the trio’s watch and evaluate if any overspending occurred.

That committee was scheduled to return to court last week on Dec. 30 to either present its findings or request more time. However, the committee’s appearance was preempted by the prosecutor’s decision to drop the charges.

Legal maneuvering

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The prosecutor has not given any reason for his move. But in November, Tunisian media reported that the country’s foreign minister had negotiated an agreement with Qatari authorities that would lead to the lawsuit against Bouneb being withdrawn.

All three defendants declined to comment to Doha News following yesterday’s scheduled court hearing, which was ultimately postponed after the lawyer for JCC failed to show up.

JCC was owned by Qatar Foundation until the Al Jazeera Media Network acquired it in 2013. Representatives of the station were not immediately available for comment.

While the JCC lawyer has previously indicated that the media company would not object to the charges being withdrawn, the written endorsement of its chairman is still required. It’s not clear what would happen if JCC objects, although one possibility is that the case could be referred to a civil court.

It’s believed the trio would still require JCC to issue them exit permits before they would be able to leave Qatar.

Yesterday, a court clerk informed the defendants that the judge had instructed the court to send JCC a formal written notification, but did not specify its contents.

The next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 5.

Thoughts?

9 COMMENTS

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MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago

What a strange case, however the thing that stinks is Tunisa talking to the Qatari government to get the charges dropped. Whether they are innocnet or guilty and it seems that the former is the case justice should take its course, not be a political decision.

Justice is not served by negotiation by politicians.

Edward
Edward
6 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

Fair point, but at what point can the Tunisian government conclude that there is no justice? This has dragged on for three years, with no evidence of criminal guilt, no ability to travel or find another job, tremendous anxiety and probably cost for the defendants.

Your point begins from the assumption that the Qatar court system can be trusted to be fair, expeditious, and reasonable, which unfortunately does not appear to be the case. And, sure enough, it seems like only the diplomatic pressure could push the case to resolution.

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
6 years ago
Reply to  Edward

but in Tunisia the registry of journalists have been putting pressure to the government especially after 2 audit (one from the government) where carried out and nothing was found

Hender
Hender
6 years ago
Reply to  Edward

Court system to be Fair, Expeditious and reasonable !!??

In my case, it took a judge few minutes to read two single-line petition launched by my Qatari Business partner and decided to impose a travel ban, preventing me from leaving the country (without any evidence, unpaid cheques or documents).

It’s taken me however 15 months, so far, trying to clear that Travel ban without success.

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
6 years ago

the main question here is: who gained from these accusations?
Where is the evidence? If there was any, why it did not come up?…hummm

Edward
Edward
6 years ago
Reply to  fullmoon07

I would say that the people who gained, in a sense, are the Qataris who overspent and/or couldn’t govern the company, hence were looking for scapegoats. Happens all the time.

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
6 years ago
Reply to  Edward

bingo!…and some are still around, I’m sure

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago

This guy is in jail simply because someone highly-placed wanted him in jail, not because he did something wrong. After 3 years, the Tunisian government understood that there is no point waiting for the Qatari justice system here to give him a fair trial, so they decided to resort to diplomatic channels.

Ana
Ana
5 years ago

There are plenty of cases currently where people are incarcerated unfair in Qatar but since their governments don’t demand rights for them people are left in an unfair trial. Look at the case of Juan Pablo Iragorri even the UN whom has sent various letters to the government of Qatar has not achieved for them to respond or provide a fair trial.

https://spdb.ohchr.org/hrdb/25th/public_-_UA_Qatar_24.02.14_(1.2014).pdf

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