A church minister who was accused of locking a man in an office and stealing more than Dh100,000 from him can now return home after Dubai Court of Appeal upheld his acquittal of all charges.
British philanthropist, Edward Adeagbo, 52, and his four British friends, aged between 37 and 48, denied charges of forceful theft and confinement in November last year and were all cleared by Dubai Criminal Court in July.
Prosecutors appealed, seeking a conviction, which extended the men's legal battle to nearly 20 months; however, Dubai Court of Appeal rejected prosecutors' petition and upheld the men's acquittal.
On April 9 last year, the minster and his friends were reported to police by a Ugandan, who alleged the men had assaulted him at his friend's office in Business Bay. He said they had snatched his phone away and then pushed him and dragged him to a meeting room next door.
The Ugandan said the men had the safe from his hotel room and threatened him, holding broken glass to his neck and asking him to give them the passcode. The Ugandan said he relented and the men took Dh100,000, as well as 9,000 euros and his passport.
The nature of the relationship between the five men and the Ugandan was not revealed, but Emirati defence lawyer Maasouma Al Sayyegh told the court that the men had been involved in a business deal. She said the men were buying gold from the Ugandan and he conned them.
"He uses the same amount of gold to con as many people as he can," she told judges.
After being acquitted, Mr Adeagbo, who went bankrupt in the UK while he was waiting for the final decision on his case in Dubai, told The National that he and the four co-accused were actually the victims of the Ugandan con artist who took their money in a gold scam.
"I have been doing philanthropic work in Africa for the past 20 years, during which I was raising money through my church – Precious Stones Christian Centre in Leyton, London – and succeeded in helping many and sponsoring students," he said.
In recent years, he said he was advised to deal in raw gold to make a profit to fund further activities.
"I did so with the help of my friends, who provided the cash to buy the gold. It was successful and the profit was used to pay university fees for some students in Uganda," he said. They met the Ugandan man, but discovered after handing him money that he had appeared in media reports in his own country due to his involvement in several gold scams.
"We came to Dubai after being told by the Ugandan that the gold was to arrive in April, so we came. When he started stalling and alleging that the gold was seized by Ethiopian authorities on its way to Dubai, we began to look for information and discovered we were victims of a scam," said Mr Adeagbo.
"When I sat with him in the office, we made a voice recording of the whole meeting which proves we were victims, and in the recording – which the court would not listen to – the man admitted the scam.
"He even apologised to me, saying that, had he known I was a pastor helping his people, he wouldn't have done this to me and my friends."
While being stranded in Dubai, Mr Adeagbo received messages from one of the students he is sponsoring in Uganda asking about her late university fees. "I didn't know what to tell her," he said.
Mr Adeagbo's friend, a consultant at a financial company in the UK, missed the birth of his first baby while on bail in Dubai and said the defendants struggled to survive while stranded. "We had to live off the money sent by our families and friends," said the 37-year-old.
Three of the five men were present throughout the court hearings, while the other two were not present to enter a plea.
The minister and his friends are still waiting for their passports to be returned to them so they can return home.
"We were told it’s a three- to four-day process to get the passports back," he said.