Meraas lawyer faces charge in corporate secrets case

E-mails sent by the man allegedly contained inside information.

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A corporate lawyer at Meraas Capital in Dubai has been accused of industrial espionage after allegedly revealing inside information about the company to a competitor. The American lawyer, JC, who failed to appear in the Dubai Criminal Court of First Instance yesterday, has been charged with revealing company secrets.

JC, 37, faces up to five years in prison and Dh20,000 (US$5,450) in fines if found guilty under rules for cases involving public officials. Prosecutors have pushed for those working in government-related organisations to be tried as public officials, a designation that carries tougher sentences on conviction. Meraas Capital is a subsidiary of Meraas Holdings, a property investment company owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Meraas Holdings announced the launch of the Dh350 billion Jumeira Gardens in October 2008. The development, in the Satwa and Al Wasl districts between the Jumeira and Sheikh Zayed roads in Dubai, was expected to be completed over 12 years, Meraas said at the time. The designs showed five towers, including a trio of buildings more than 600 metres tall that would be connected by inhabitable sky bridges, as well as islands off the coast and a network of canals.

A large canal was to run through the heart of the development and flow into the Business Bay Canal at one end, and the sea at the other. The first phase of the development was to occupy 820,000 square metres and was to include six blocks of residential and retail buildings, two hotels and a luxury shopping area. The indictment sheet for the case claimed e-mail records showed communications between JC and AS, 48, a lawyer at Al Qudra Holding in Abu Dhabi, between February 12 and February 20 last year.

The e-mails allegedly detailed sensitive information about Jumeira Gardens, including the names of its contractors, consultants and planners, as well as internal financial details of the company's dealings with the planners and contractors, the indictment read. In their first communication, AS allegedly asked JC to provide her with a full list of the consultants used by Meraas Holdings, and a list of the major planners and consultants in Dubai.

JC replied that Meraas Holdings had used several consultants for its projects and the company was in debt to them, the indictment sheet showed. In another e-mail, JC allegedly revealed the names of the contractors to AS and said the company had decided to deal with another, more expensive contractor after dropping its first choice, which eventually led to the Jumeira Gardens project being cancelled, according to the indictment sheet.

A third e-mail exchange allegedly showed JC told AS that Meraas Holdings employees were leaving the company and that it was facing liquidation. Public prosecutors stated in the indictment document, without providing details, that financial and market secrets were also revealed in that e-mail. The defendant told prosecutors that he was taken before a Meraas Capital disciplinary committee on March 5 last year and his actions were questioned, records showed.

JC presented the committee with a letter acknowledging his error in judgement and claimed that he had provided information to AS with no intention of hurting his company's interests. Prosecution records showed he said he had tried to apply for a job at Al Qudra Holding and thought his information would ease his way in. AS allegedly told prosecutors she knew JC through the Dubai Corporate Council Group, of which they were both members.

The records claim she also told prosecutors that, in her communications with JC, she had only requested a list of contractors and planners, and that he had responded with more information and details of his own accord. Fahmy Mounir Fahmy, the presiding judge, adjourned the case until April 18 for the defendant to enter his plea.