Australian engineer Rob Pether sentenced to five years in jail by Iraqi court

Dubai resident's wife speaks of heartbreak as routine work trip turns into lengthy prison sentence

An Australian engineer who was detained in Iraq has been sentenced to five years in jail.

Rob Pether was told by a court in Baghdad on Wednesday he would remain in jail until 2026.

The 46-year-old, who lived in Dubai with his wife and children, was said to be devastated at the sentence.

The case against him relates to his Dubai-based company's work for the Iraq government.

His family said the charges were at no point clearly laid out - but related to his employer's work.

"It broke my heart to have to tell our children what had happened," his wife Desree Pether said, speaking exclusively to The National.

Our eight-year-old daughter Nala turned round to me and said 'but Mummy that means I will be 13 when I see Daddy again
Desree Pether, wife of Robert Pether

Mr Pether worked as an engineer for the company in Dubai, which was contracted to work on the Zaha Hadid-designed Central Bank of Iraq headquarters on the banks of the Tigris River.

The father of three has remained in custody since then, along with Egyptian colleague, Khalid Zaghlol and several bail applications have been rejected despite no charges being presented to him.

He travelled extensively in the region and had lived in Dubai for 10 years.

"Our eight-year-old daughter Nala turned round to me and said 'but Mummy that means I will be 13 when I see daddy again'.

"We are devastated and living in hell right now.

"I am just in shock this could happen. All I can say for sure right now is we will definitely be appealing against it."

Ms Pether said she was waiting for an update on the legal proceedings from the Australian Embassy before commenting further.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said it understood Mr Pether, along with an Egyptian colleague, was found guilty of fraud in an Iraqi court and sentenced to five years imprisonment and jointly fined $12million.

"DFAT has made repeated representations to the Iraqi Government on Mr Pether’s case, including to seek clarity on the nature of the charges, related to a business dispute," said a representative.

"The Foreign Minister has written and spoken to her Iraqi counterpart to advocate for Mr Pether’s case in the strongest terms.

"The Australian Government cannot intervene in other governments’ judicial processes. DFAT continues to provide consular assistance to Mr Pether and his family."

CME Consulting, Mr Pether’s employer who is providing him with a lawyer in Iraq, has not responded to emails and calls since he was detained.

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

Plummeting oil prices on the international market and Iraq’s war with extremist group ISIS resulted in a lack of funding, which led to the suspension of the project a year later.

Work resumed on the project in 2018. CME Consulting then worked for 39 of the 48 months stipulated in the contract. It was paid for 32 months before payments were withheld.

CME was asked by the Central Bank to extend the contract for three months to make up for work suspended during the coronavirus restrictions last year.

The bank informed CME it would not pay for the extension, which led to the company objecting as it said the suspension was not its decision.

The bank is also asking for $12 million to be returned, describing the sum as “extra payments”.

Updated: August 26th 2021, 11:06 AM