Dubai returns passport to detained Australian

Australian prime minister Julia Gillard has written to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum to plead for businessman's release

The wife of an Australian man under house arrest in Dubai for the past four years has had her passport returned, giving the family hope they will all soon be able to go home, according to an Australian media report.

Australian executives Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee are facing bribery charges in relation to a property deal on Dubai Waterfront, being developed by Nakheel.

The men spent six months in jail before being charged in July 2009 and released under house arrest on the condition their wives also hand in their passports.

Joyce’s wife Angela Higgins told The Sydney Morning Herald she had had her passport returned, describing it as ''the first real breakthrough'' since Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard called Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, last month to plead for the release of her husband - the father of her two children - and Lee.

The men already have won a parallel court case in Australia brought by Gold Coast-based developer Sunland.

In July last year,  Victorian Supreme Court Justice Clyde Croft threw out the case, denouncing Sunland ''fabrications'' and ''ulterior motive'' in what has become a highly publicised judgement.

The men had worked together on Dubai Waterfront, which was the world’s largest property development.

Sunland alleged it was duped into paying about US$14 million 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 Angus Reed, of falsely claiming that Prudentia had rights over D17.

But Victorian Supreme Court Justice Clyde Croft found they made no such claim. He said Sunland had been ''desperate'' to secure the land amid Dubai’s property boom.

When the property market collapsed soon after, Sunland launched its pursuit of Joyce and Reed. D17 has never been developed.

Justice Croft found Sunland's Middle East boss, David Brown, made the false allegations after realising he was under investigation for bribery after he paid the $14 million. Sunland had persisted with its false claims ''in wilful disregard of known facts and law and also for an ulterior motive''.

Sunland is appealing against Justice Croft's ruling.

The Dubai case also is being reviewed in light of the Australian judgement.

In that case, Sunland claims about $7 million went to a bank account linked to Joyce and about $7 million went to a company linked to Reed, which both men deny.

The case against Lee, who is not being accused by Sunland, is not clear.

Despite repossessing her passport again, Higgins said she would not immediately return to Australia.

“I want to stay here and support Matt so that we can all come home together,'' she reportedly told The Sydney Morning Herald.

''I'm extremely appreciative of the efforts of Australian consular staff in securing the release of my passport.

“I'm hopeful it's a sign that some progress is being made in bringing the false evidence against Matt to the attention of the Dubai authorities.''

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