Family of Australian engineer locked up in Baghdad jail say he's lost 40kg in weight

Robert Pether's wife fears he could be suffering from skin cancer while behind bars

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The family of an Australian engineer imprisoned in Iraq over a contract dispute said they are “worried sick” about his health.

Robert Pether was sentenced to five years in jail last year by a Baghdad court.

He and colleague Khaled Radwan, from Egypt, were ordered to pay $12 million. Radwan is also detained.

Pether, 47, who lived in Dubai with his wife and children, was jailed following a dispute involving his company’s work for the Central Bank of Iraq.

He is suffering from spells of dizziness, which cause him to lose his sight. He looks like a 74 year-old-man rather than a 47-year-old
Desree Pether

His wife, Desree, said she was now worried for her husband’s health after he told her in a phone conversation he suspects he has developed a melanoma, similar to one he was treated for in the past.

“We are worried sick about him. He has suffered from a melanoma and has now developed a mole on the same ear,” she said.

“He's needed regular skin mapping since he was a teenager and his condition has worsened as he has got older.

“He has also lost more than 40kg and is continuing to lose weight and he is suffering from spells of dizziness, which cause him to lose his sight.”

Mrs Pether has kept in regular touch with her husband by phone since he was first incarcerated in Baghdad almost 16 months ago.

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

She spoke of her concern that Pether was not obtaining adequate treatment.

“He simply cannot receive the specialist care he so urgently needs in his current situation,” said Mrs Pether, adding that she has received medical reports regarding her husband that have left her fearing the worst

“He is not receiving the treatment he needs to prevent his condition from worsening.”

A melanoma is a type of skin cancer that has a high survival rate, providing it is detected in the early stages.

“He looks like a 74 year-old-man rather than a 47-year-old,” she said.

Australian government petitions on welfare

The Australian government also issued a statement making its concern for Pether's health clear.

“The Australian government is concerned for the welfare of Australian citizen Mr Robert Pether, who is serving a prison sentence in Iraq,” a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade representative said.

“We have consistently advocated for Mr Pether’s interests at the highest levels and will continue to do so.

“Since his arrest, Australian government officials in Baghdad and Canberra have provided consular assistance to Mr Pether and his family. Australian officials have visited Mr Pether in detention in Baghdad on 47 occasions.

“Owing to our privacy obligations, we are unable to provide further details.”

The Australian government continues its policy of advising Australians not to travel to Iraq because of what it describes as a volatile security situation, and very high risk of violence, armed conflict, kidnapping and terrorist attack.

Pether had been working in Dubai as an engineer for CME Consulting, a company contracted to work on the headquarters of the Central Bank of Iraq, on the banks of the Tigris river.

Several bail attempts were rejected before he was sentenced in August last year.

Attempts were made by The National to contact CME Consulting. No response was received.

The dispute centres around a $33m contract, initially awarded to CME in 2015.

A year later, the project was suspended, with plummeting oil prices and Iraq’s war with ISIS extremists given as the main reasons.

Work began again in 2018, and CME completed 39 of the 48 months stipulated in the contract.

Payment was received for 32 of the months before further payments were withheld.

CME was asked to extend their contract by three months to make up for work that was suspended as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The bank informed CME it would not make payments for the extension, which led to a standoff between both parties.

A “special payment” of $12m was also requested by the bank.

Updated: July 31, 2022, 8:01 AM