Two Australian executives have been sentenced in Dubai to 10 years' jail on property fraud charges, while a third accused has been found not guilty, according to media reports.
The men have been embroiled in a four-year battle against Australian developer Sunland over a multi-million dollar project at Nakheel’s cancelled Dubai Waterfront development.
The Ruler’s Court on Monday found Matt Joyce and Angus Reed had defrauded Sunland of $14m over the property deal, each taking a cut, while their junior colleague Marcus Lee had not benefitted.Joyce also was fined $25m.
Joyce and Lee have been under house arrest in Dubai since being released on bail four years ago, while Reed, who is in Melbourne, was tried in absentia.
The case has drawn the attention of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who directly contacted Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum after an Australian court made a damning finding against Sunland and called its executives "unreliable witnesses".
Joyce’s supporters immediately described the Dubai verdict as a “travesty of justice”, according to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.
"I am shocked by the extremity of today's verdict,” Joyce told the SMH.
“My family and I are still coming to terms with it. I have received 10 years' jail, the maximum possible sentence, and a fine of $25m Australian dollars, which is double the loss alleged by the prosecution.
"The most difficult part of today's decision is that I’ve been convicted based on the evidence of a witness who was found by an Australian court to have lied.
"I will of course appeal this decision. I am innocent of the charges against me."
Lee's Australian lawyer John Sneddon said his client was “absolutely ecstatic” but his relief was tempered by the guilty verdicts of Joyce and Reed.
“Marcus has just gotten off the phone to his wife, Julie, and said he was still shaking,” Sneddon told the SMH. “He's finding it difficult to believe this ordeal is finally coming to a close.
"The acquittal means the court has accepted that Marcus was not involved in any conspiracy to deceive or defraud, that he has committed no crime and that he received no money."
Joyce and Lee’s families have been with them in Dubai since they were put under house arrest.
Joyce's wife, Angela Higgins, was reportedly devastated by the result.
“My husband is innocent. Our family has been through so much over the last four years and today's decision is much worse than I thought possible,” she told the SMH.
"Matt needs his family's help now more than ever and we will be staying with him in Dubai to support him through the appeal."
The allegations stem back to 2008, when Sunland alleges it was duped into paying about $14m to another Australian company, Prudentia, to secure a development plot known as D17.
It accused Joyce, as Dubai Waterfront's general manager, and Prudentia's Reed, of falsely claiming that Prudentia had rights over D17.
Sunland says it would not have paid the $14m fee to Prudentia if Reed and Joyce had not falsely represented that Prudentia had rights over the land.
However during the Australian court decision handed down last year Sunland executives were accused of lying.
During an appeal heard earlier this year, two justices questioned how Sunland could have been misled when there were internal emails in which members of the Prudentia board referred to having rights over the block of land.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission also has launched an investigation into Sunland over potentially misleading statements released to the market in 2009 relating to the case.
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