Posted by on July 06, 2012 in Blog
An Arab American businessman agreed to end his hunger strike yesterday after authorities in Dubai granted his request for bail. The case of Zack Shahin, an Arab American of Lebanese descent originally from Ohio, has strained the usually close relationship between the United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and raised concerns about the security of the large expatriate business community in Dubai and other Emirates.
Shahin rose to business prominence in Dubai as the CEO of Deyaar Development, a subsidiary of the large, state-controlled Dubai Islamic Bank. Deyaar bought and developed land in Dubai, an incredibly profitable business during the real estate boom of the early to mid-2000’s. When the market turned beginning in 2007, real estate prices in Dubai cratered, leaving individuals and businesses like Deyyar with mountains of debt they were hard-pressed to repay. Expatriates deep in debt began to flee the country, and Emirati authorities opened a series of fraud prosecutions against prominent expatriate business leaders, including Shahin. In 2008, he was arrested and accused of embezzlement and misuse of corporate funds, among other accusations. However, Shahin has never been formally charged and his lawyers contend that the charges are constantly shifted in response to their attempts to free him.
Shahin maintains his innocence, saying that the company’s finances were certified by the global accounting firm Ernst & Young and that he is being held as a scapegoat for the thousands of expatriates who made money in Dubai during the boom and fled with their capital as the market turned. After spending nearly three years in jail with no word on when he might be released, Shahin decided to take his case public. He and his family hired American lawyers and created a website, www.freezack.com, to publicize his case in the American media. Though these efforts raised the case’s profile and caused the State Department to publicly call for his release, they failed to force Emirati authorities to tell Shahin when he would be released. On May 14, he began a hunger strike that went on for nearly two months and put pressure on Emirati officials to address his case before his health deteriorated significantly.
Shahin was released on Thursday on $1.5 million bail, and he will face his first hearing on July 15. Though his case seems close to a satisfactory resolution, it has strained relations between the US and the UAE. Shahin’s family, lawyers, and supporters have questioned the quiescence of the American embassy in Abu Dhabi during the first years of his detention, arguing that embassy officials were only spurred to action by their campaign of public pressure. After his hunger strike began, American officials were considerably more vocal in their calls for his release, but the US has significant interests in the UAE that make it difficult to press for the release of prisoners like Shahin, especially regarding military bases that would be vital in an attack against Iran. Shahin’s case has some parallels with the recent treatment of Arab Americans like Sandra Tamari at the Israeli border; both put American interests in conflict with the rights of individual Americans. Continued pressure on Congress and the State Department is vital to ensuring that these officials make the right choice.