Businessman gets 15-year sentence in UAE dispute

By JON GAMBRELLMarketsAssociated Press

A court in the United Arab Emirates sentenced a businessman accused of stealing $1.5 billion while working for one of its sheikhdoms to 15 years in prison over one alleged scam, authorities said Wednesday.

Businessman Khater Massaad maintained his innocence and told The Associated Press from Saudi Arabia that the charges were part of a long-running vendetta against him by the government of Ras al-Khaimah.

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The court ruling demands Massaad and an associate must repay $17.2 million that the emirate accuses them of embezzling in the scam, which involved diverting public funds in relation to a seaport project in the country of Georgia.

Massaad at one point ran the sovereign wealth fund of the small Emirati sheikhdom of Ras al-Khaimah and had ties to the man who is now the emirate's ruler. He also helped set up a major ceramics business in the northern sheikhdom.

A report carried on Emirati state media last year alleged he fled the country after questions about his business activities arose in 2012. Massaad holds Swiss citizenship and has business interests in several countries, including Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Ras al-Khaimah has said Massaad previously was convicted of fraud and other criminal activity

Massaad, who was arrested in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, in September and still remains there, strongly denied the allegations leveled against him. He said the latest conviction came after a closed-door trial in which he was not given the chance to secure legal counsel to defend him.

"I am simply shocked to hear this in the news," Massaad told the AP. "No one informed me about anything."

UAE authorities have been trying to extradite Massaad since September. Massaad declined to say whether he was free to leave Saudi Arabia.