The family of an Australian engineer jailed in Baghdad has pleaded for his release after a picture emerged of his deteriorating health.
Robert Pether was sentenced to five years in prison by an Iraqi court over a contract dispute between his employer and the country's Central Bank.
Pether, 47, who has lived in Dubai with his family for the past 11 years, was also ordered to pay $12 million along with his colleague Khaled Radwan, from Egypt, who also remains detained.
Pether’s family has repeated a call for his release, this time on medical grounds after a picture was released showing his ill health.
His family and doctor believe this is a direct result of a botched attempt to remove moles from his back.
“It’s absolutely shocking for us to see the state of him. We couldn’t show the picture to our youngest daughter,” said Pether’s wife, Desree.
“We’ve tried to stay calm but it’s just heartbreaking when you see someone you love looking like that.
“His immune system is compromised and he’s in a crowded cell, so if anyone comes in with a virus he is going to be in big trouble.”
She hit out at the authorities for the surgery her husband received, which has, in the opinion of her Pether's regular doctor, left him seriously worse off than before.
“He thought it was just going to be bunch of biopsies, to remove tissue, which ended up with him having a large mole removed from the bottom of his spine, which is not what he consented to,” Mrs Pether said.
“He was left with a 15-centimetre scar at the bottom of his spine, which immediately got infected and which took him two weeks to recover from.
“His immune system is completely shot and he is continuing to lose weight.”
She said the picture of her husband, taken for his own doctor’s reference, has led the family to fear he could have once again developed a melanoma, a type of skin cancer he was treated for in the past.
Pether’s doctor wrote a letter of concern to the Australian government last month, warning them about the risk posed to his health following the surgery he received in Iraq.
“Robert Pether should be, and should have already been, released as a matter of urgency in order to have surgery safely in an optimal environment, and most importantly, performed by experts,” wrote his doctor.
“Robert Pether is imprisoned in a 14ft cell with no windows and only one door with 21 other men.
“To perform surgery on any patient and send them back into that environment is unconscionable.”
How the case unfolded
Pether was arrested 17 months ago when he was called to Iraq for what he believed to be a straightforward business meeting to discuss a contract dispute.
However, he was detained during the meeting and has remained jailed ever since.
He had been working in Dubai as an engineer for CME Consulting, a company that was contracted to work on the headquarters of the Central Bank of Iraq, on the banks of the Tigris.
Several bail attempts were subsequently rejected before he was sentenced in August of last year.
The National has contacted CME Consulting for comment.
A $33m contract, awarded to CME, is at the heart of the dispute.
The project was suspended after a year, with Iraq’s war with ISIS extremists and plummeting oil prices said to be the main reasons.
Work resumed in 2018, with CME Consulting completing 39 of the 48 months stipulated in their contract before payments were withheld.
The Central Bank also asked CME to extend the contract by three months to make up for work suspended during the Covid-19 restrictions last year.
CME was told by the banking regulator that it would not pay for the extension, which led to the company objecting on the grounds the suspension was not its decision.
Pether was invited in April to attend what he thought was a routine meeting at the Baghdad bank to discuss the project.
Instead, he was arrested along with Mr Zaghlol, and was held in custody before receiving the same prison sentence in August.
The bank also called for CME to return $12m, the same amount Pether and his colleague were fined, on the grounds the sum was for “extra payments”.