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
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.
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minister had negotiated an agreement with Qatari authorities that would lead to the lawsuit against Bouneb being withdrawn.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.
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.