Family's anguish as Australian engineer detained for weeks without charge in Baghdad

The wife of Robert Pether appealed to Iraqi authorities to make formal charges or release her husband

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The family of an Australian engineer who was arrested in Iraq without explanation has pleaded for his release.

Robert Pether, 46, was detained on April 7 after he travelled from Dubai to Baghdad for a routine meeting with his client, the Central Bank of Iraq.

His wife, Desree, said he and an Egyptian colleague were arrested as soon as they arrived at the meeting.

She has spent weeks trying to get information from Australian Embassy officials and authorities in Baghdad. Since then, she was allowed two phone conversations with him.

Having to tell the children what was happening and watching their reaction was utterly devastating

“I have just been shaking for days. I can’t believe this is actually happening to us,” said Ms Pether, who is currently in Ireland with their three children.

“I was eventually able to speak to him over the phone last week and earlier this week.

“He is no longer in isolation and is sharing a cell with others. He said he is being treated well.”

She said her husband told her he had not been yet been charged with any offence.

“He hasn’t been charged but has been held for 28 days now,” she said.

“We’ve been told we will be informed about the bail application in the ‘near future’.”

Ms Pether is an Irish citizen whose family has lived in Dubai for 10 years. She was told her husband’s Dubai-based employer, CME Consulting, had provided a lawyer for him.

Mr Pether has had one court appearance with no translator and was returned to a detention centre.

The Egyptian colleague he was arrested with has not been identified publicly.

The National made several attempts to contact CME Consulting by email and phone but received no response. The company is a contractor on the Zaha Hadid-designed Central Bank of Iraq tower, on the banks of the Tigris River.

Iraqi government officials confirmed Mr Pether's arrest to The National but would not detail charges.

Ms Pether said the predicament was causing great distress.

“I didn’t tell my eight-year old daughter about it for three days because we didn’t want her to worry,” she said.

“I had to tell her in the end because Robert would phone home every night, so she knew something wasn’t right.

“Having to tell the children what was happening and watching their reaction was utterly devastating.”

Last week, Ireland’s Taoiseach, or prime minister, Micheal Martin, spoke about Mr Pether’s predicament in the Senate.

The Australian government said it was “providing consular assistance to an Australian detained in Iraq”.

“Owing to our privacy obligations we will not provide further comment,” it said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Mr Martin said: “We will do everything we possibly can.

“We know this must be a very difficult time for his family. We’re working with the Australian government, which is taking the lead.”