Australian engineer jailed in Iraq in 'good condition', Justice Ministry says

Robert Pether and an Egyptian colleague were found guilty of fraud in a contract dispute between their employer and Iraq's central bank

Australian engineer Robert Pether pictured with his three children. Mr Pether’s family appealed for his immediate release on Wednesday, citing his deteriorating health in poor prison conditions. Courtesy: Desree Pether
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Iraq's Justice Ministry on Thursday dismissed concerns about the health of jailed Australian engineer Robert Pether, saying he was in “good condition”.

Mr Pether, 47, is serving a five-year sentence after being convicted of fraud in August last year along with an Egyptian colleague, Khaled Radwan. The court also ordered them to pay $12 million in the case involving a contract dispute between their employer and the Central Bank of Iraq.

Mr Pether’s family appealed for his immediate release on Wednesday, citing his deteriorating health in poor prison conditions.

But Justice Ministry spokesman Ahmed Al Luaibi said reports about Mr Pether’s health and imprisonment conditions were “baseless.”

“None of that is true,” Mr Al Luaibi told The National. “He’s in good condition and receives the adequate medical care that he needs.”

His family said they were shocked by a picture of Mr Pether, provided by Iraqi authorities for his personal doctor’s reference, that showed him looking thin and with moles covering his body.

“It’s absolutely shocking for us to see the state of him,” his wife Desree told The National. “His immune system is completely shot and he is continuing to lose weight."

His family and doctor believe his condition is the result of a failed attempt to remove moles from his back. They fear he could have once again developed a melanoma, a type of skin cancer he was treated for in the past.

Mr Al Luaibi said Justice Minister Salar Abdul Mohammed and the Australian ambassador met late last month and discussed Mr Pether's condition.

“The minister ordered medical tests and he received treatment at a clinic outside the cell,” he said.

They are still waiting the results of the biopsy, Mr Al Luaibi said.

“We are monitoring his health and making sure he is receiving adequate medical treatment,” he said. “He is in good condition.”

Pictures of Robert Pether before and during his detention in Baghdad. Photo: Supplied by Desree Pether

Mr Al Luaibi denied that Mr Pether was kept in an overcrowded cell with no windows, saying he was in a special prison section for foreigners.

The engineer, who has lived in Dubai with his family for the past 11 years, was arrested along with Mr Radwan in April last year after being invited to a meeting at the Central Bank of Iraq to resolve a contractual dispute.

The bank offered their employer, the Dubai company CME Consulting, a $33m deal in 2015 for engineering consultancy services to build a new headquarters in Baghdad.

The project was suspended a year later amid a slump in oil prices and the war with ISIS extremists. Work resumed in 2018, with CME completing 39 of the 48 months stipulated in the contract before payments were withheld.

Last year, the central bank asked CME to extend the contract by three months to make up for the suspension of work during the Covid-19 pandemic. The company refused.

The bank also asked CME to return $12m, on the grounds the sum was for “extra payments”.

The bank's new 37-storey headquarters is being constructed by Daax Construction of Azerbaijan on the banks of the Tigris in central Baghdad. Its striking design is typical of the innovative work of the late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid.

The estimated construction cost of $722m makes it one of Iraq’s biggest non-oil projects since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Updated: September 08, 2022, 3:02 PM