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Irish family plead as father held in Iraq prison

An Australian man, who is married to an Irish woman, has spent 1,000 days in an Iraqi jail in what the UN has described as an “arbitrary detention”.

Construction engineer Robert Pether, who lives in Co Roscommon, and his Egyptian colleague Khalid Radwan were arrested in April 2021 amid a contractual dispute between their Dubai-based employer and the Central Bank of Iraq.

In August 2021, they were sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay a $12m penalty over allegations that their employer spent funds that should have been paid to others involved in the building of the bank’s new headquarters.

Earlier this year, the International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC) Court of Arbitration ruled that Iraq’s central bank was at fault in the dispute with the company.

The Geneva-based UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also investigated the case and referred it to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Pether’s wife Desree, said her husband is at “rock bottom”, having spent a third Christmas in prison in Baghdad.

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She said she spoke to him yesterday and said he is “absolutely devastated that we have come to this point and still not one step in a positive direction.”

Ms Pether travelled to the Iraqi Embassy in Dublin yesterday, where she said she asked for the opportunity to speak with officials on her husband’s behalf to “convey the truth we’ve been speaking for 1,000 days that this contract dispute between his employer and the central bank [of Iraq] was used as an opportunity for an agenda that had nothing to do with them.

Desree Pether spoke to RTE’s Prime Time in April 2022

“My husband is completely innocent. If only they were given the opportunity to present the evidence, multiple evidence showing this, then this will all be over.”

Ms Pether said she has also met with the Iraq Embassy in London and its embassy in Australia and conveyed the same message.

She said that in every court sitting outside of Iraq, the central bank has been found guilty and “still these two guys are being held in Iraq”.

Ms Pether said her three children, who are all Irish citizens, said the situation is not fair on them and they miss their Dad terribly and “so much time has been stolen from us all”.

Ms Pether said she has been able to talk to her husband most days via Zoom, but without video, and said he does not want her to travel to Iraq given what has happened to him.

Asked what Irish authorities could do, Ms Pether said they were not looking for consular assistance, but said what she hopes to personally ask the Government for in the coming weeks is to “stand up for Robert’s human rights”.

She said the UN report which was published in March 2022 highlighted 30 serious violations of human rights in international law, adding, “I really just need Ireland to stand up for Robert’s human rights as they have done for many other citizens in other countries”.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it is “aware of developments in the case of Mr Pether. As Mr Pether is an Australian national, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is the relevant consular authority.

“Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs have liaised with relevant Australian authorities in relation to the case and the concerns of the family. The Department of Foreign Affairs is in regular contact with the Pether family.”

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