Wife of Australian detained in Iraq without charge worried husband has 'given up hope'

Family say they feel abandoned by everybody

The wife of a Dubai resident detained in Baghdad without charge for 85 days said she is worried her husband is giving up hope.

Robert Pether, 46, has been held in custody for 85 days and his wife, Desree Pether, said she and their three children were going out of their minds with worry.

Mr Pether, an Australian engineer living in Dubai, was arrested along with a colleague during what he presumed to be a routine business meeting with his employer’s client, the Central Bank of Iraq.

The kids and I are devastated and we feel abandoned by everyone
Desree Pether

Both Mr Pether and his Egyptian colleague, Khalid Zaghlol, have remained in custody since then with several bail applications rejected despite neither man being charged with any offence.

“I am worried he has completely given up hope. I had a three minute phone call with him this morning and he feels betrayed by everyone from the Australian and Iraqi government to his employer for not helping him,” said Ms Pether.

“I have filed a submission to the United Nations about his detention but it seems it doesn’t matter what we do. It just gets ignored.”

Mr Pether works in Dubai as an engineer for CME Consulting who are supplying him with a lawyer during his detention in Baghdad.

 Robert Pether with his three children. Courtesy: Desree Pether

However, Ms Pether said her husband has had limited interaction with his legal representatives and three bail applications have been denied by the authorities in Iraq.

“He has had a total of two hours with his lawyers despite being locked up for 85 days now,” she said.

“We are worried about his physical and mental health.

“The kids and I are devastated and we feel abandoned by everyone.”

Mr Pether was due to appear in court this week, according to Ms Pether, but she said his case was adjourned due to public holidays, adding to the family’s growing frustration.

She has also asked the Irish government for help as she is an Irish citizen. However, a spokesperson for the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs said their Australian counterparts were the relevant consular authority as Mr Pether was an Australian citizen.

"It would not be appropriate to comment on an ongoing consular case of an international partner," said a representative of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.

"Our embassies and consulates cannot directly intervene in the internal affairs or processes of another jurisdiction, including the provision of consular assistance to citizens of that jurisdiction."

The National has contacted the Australian government for comment.

His employer CME Consulting has not responded to numerous emails and phone calls.

Dispute over contract

Zaha Hadid’s Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) design will be A Landmark Tower & Financial Monument on the shores of the Tigris River in Baghdad, Iraq. courtesy: Zaha Hadid Architects

The dispute involves a $33 million contract awarded to CME Consulting in 2015.

Work was suspended a year later owing to a lack of funds caused by plummeting oil prices in the international market and Iraq’s war with ISIS.

Iraq resumed work on the project in 2018, by which stage the partner withdrew from the contract but CME Consulting continued the work without notifying the central bank.

The company worked for 39 of the 48 months stipulated in its contract. It was paid for 32 months, before payment was withheld in September.

The dispute started this year when the bank asked CME to extend the contract for three months to make up for work suspended during the coronavirus lockdown last year.

The bank said it would not pay for the extension. CME refused, saying the suspension was not its decision and that its employees were in Baghdad.

The bank is also asking for $12 million, described as "extra payments" to be returned.

Updated: July 3rd 2021, 4:19 AM