The wife of an Egyptian engineer jailed for five years in Iraq over a financial dispute involving his employer has made an emotional plea for his release.
Khaled Radwan, 58, and Australian colleague Robert Pether, 47, were imprisoned in August last year by a Baghdad court and together ordered to pay $12 million.
The two men were initially detained in custody in April last year in a case centred on delays to work carried out by their company, Dubai-based CME Consulting, on the construction of new headquarters for the Central Bank of Iraq.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has branded their incarceration as “arbitrary and in contravention of international law” and called on the Iraqi government to free both men.
Amany Ahmed, Mr Radwan's wife, told The National she fears for his well-being.
“I want Khaled home. I can only call him twice per week and video conference isn’t allowed. His mental health is terrible,” said Ms Ahmed, who lived in Dubai with her husband and their children for 18 years.
“He is a well-known engineer in the Middle East and all of a sudden he found himself behind bars on unfair charges.”
Ms Ahmed, who has moved back to Egypt, has called on her country's president, Abdel Fattah El Sisi, to intervene on behalf of the two jailed engineers.
“The dispute is between the central bank and the company based in Dubai. My husband was an employee and has nothing to do with any charges or commercial disputes, she said.
“The charges were fabricated and they lured him to sign confession papers that were presented to the Iraqi court. There is no evidence against my husband. I don’t know what to do.
“The company hired lawyers for them and even the lawyers were shocked by the verdict.”
Troubled construction led to prison ordeal
CME was awarded a $33m contract in 2015 for the construction project.
The work was suspended a year later, however, with plummeting oil prices and Iraq’s war with extremist group ISIS cited as the main reasons.
The project resumed in 2018 with CME working for 39 out of 48 of the months stipulated in the contract.
It received payment for 32 of the months before payments were withheld.
The central bank asked CME to extend the contract by three months to make up for work that was suspended due to the pandemic.
The bank told CME it would not make payments for the extension, which led to the company objecting as it said the suspension was not its decision.
The return of $12m was also requested by the bank for “special payments”.
CME has not responded to numerous attempts by email and calls to discuss its employees being behind bars in Iraq.
Ms Ahmed said her husband and Mr Pether were arrested on April 7 last year during what they believed to be a routine meeting to discuss a contractual dispute.
“We were told that special forces wearing black arrested them during the meeting with the governor. They were scary moments, like a horror movie,” she said.
“First they were detained in prison with terrorists. They are civilian engineers.”
Several bail attempts were subsequently rejected before Mr Radwan was sentenced in August of last year.
Families desperate for help
The family of Mr Pether last month issued a renewed call for him to be freed, amid his failing health.
His loved ones and doctor believe this is a direct result of a botched attempt to remove moles from his back.
Mr Pether’s doctor wrote a letter of concern to the Australian government in August, warning it about the risk posed to his health following the surgery he received in Iraq.
“Robert Pether is imprisoned in a 14-foot cell with no windows and only one door with 21 other men,” the doctor stated.
“To perform surgery on any patient and send them back into that environment is unconscionable.”
Iraqi authorities have not commented on the condition of either man, but said Pether was being treated well, in contrast to claims from his family, lawyer and the Australian government.