Ex- Leeds United managing director David Haigh yesterday spoke of his relief at his two-year prison “nightmare” coming to an end after he was acquitted in the United Arab Emirates of criminal charges relating to a tweet.
Mr Haigh, who worked at Elland Road for just over a year in 2013-14, said he hopes to return to the UK in time for Easter following a spell in custody that started in May 2014.
He was due to be released in November last year after being convicted of fraud, but was then charged with a further offence of slander over comments made on Twitter while he was in jail.
A human rights group described his acquittal as a “positive step” but say many other people remain at risk of similar treatment because of cyber-slander laws in the United Arab Emirates.
Ian Monk, Mr Haigh’s spokesman, said: “David is delighted that the nightmare of almost two years in jail, which began when he was tricked into flying to Dubai on the pretext of being offered a new job, is now coming to an end.
“David now hopes to be reunited with his family in the UK for Easter. He will have more to say then.”
Mr Haigh, a director at Leeds United for just over a year in 2013-14 after leading GFH Capital’s negotiations to acquire the club, was originally arrested in Dubai on May 18 2014.
He was initially detained without charge for 14 months and had his worldwide assets frozen before being convicted in August of misappropriating items of monetary value from a position of trust from his former Dubai-based employer. He was sentenced to two years in prison – the majority of which he had already served – but is reportedly considering seeking a retrial.
Earlier this year, Mr Haigh’s case was taken up by Human Rights Watch, which said authorities in the UAE should drop the slander charges, release Mr Haigh and scrap the law that criminalises slander.
The influential human rights organisation criticised the Middle Eastern nation’s “repressive” cybercrime laws and said Mr Haigh had hearings to consider his case postponed six times since November.
According to HRW, Haigh was charged with slander on the basis of comments made about Leeds United’s former owners GFH eight months earlier on his Twitter account.
Nicholas McGeehan of HRW said today: “David Haigh’s acquittal is a positive step and shows that the UAE’s courts standing up to absurd invocations of its cybercrime law, but many more will remain at risk of similar treatment unless repressive provisions of this law is repealed.
“The UK Government should ensure any allegations of mistreatment are fully investigated.”