DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — American businessman Zack Shahin has been released on bail pending trial after more than four years in a Dubai jail, a U.S. Embassy official in the United Arab Emirates said Friday.
The detention of the Ohio-raised businessmen and a recent hunger strike he launched to urge authorities to hear his case threatened to strain relations between the United States and one of its top Gulf allies.
Shahin was met by an American consular officer upon his release late Thursday night, embassy spokesman Jeffrey Ladenson told The Associated Press. Ladenson welcomed the move, which he said will allow Shahin to engage fully in his own defense.
"We urge that the prosecution be concluded in a timely and transparent fashion," Ladenson said.
Shahin, 52, is a former CEO of Deyaar, one of several Dubai-based property developers that rose to prominence during the emirate's building boom last decade.
He was arrested in 2008 as part of a probe into alleged embezzlement by executives at the company. Authorities later targeted him in other investigations involving alleged financial improprieties involving Deyaar. He has denied wrongdoing.
The Lebanon-born Shahin is one of several businesspeople under investigation for financial irregularities in the UAE that allegedly occurred as the desert country transformed itself into a free-wheeling international business hub.
After more than four years in jail awaiting trial, Shahin began going without food on May 14 to draw attention to his case. He said shortly after beginning the hunger strike that he feared he was being left in legal limbo because authorities had yet to bring his case to trial.
In a written statement confirming his release, Shahin thanked U.S. officials for pressing his case. He also called on Emirati authorities to consolidate several separate sets of charges against him so his lawyers can mount a more effective defense.
"All I have asked for is the same treatment under the law as other Emirati defendants standing accused of similar charges. Now that Dubai authorities have taken the first step for equal due process for all defendants by granting my bail, I look forward to the opportunity to prove my innocence during a fair, transparent, and open trial," Shahin said.
He added that he will seek medical attention to restore his health.
Local media have reported on a wave of hunger strikes in UAE prisons in recent months among inmates jailed on financial crimes, including issuing bad checks.
American officials in the UAE took an unusually public role in advocating for Shahin as his health deteriorated. The pressure risked opening a rare diplomatic rift with one of Washington's closest Arab allies at a time when traditional U.S. relationships elsewhere in the Mideast are being tested by the Arab Spring changes.
The seven-state UAE federation, which includes the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is OPEC's third largest oil producer. It maintains strong economic ties with the U.S. and hosts important American air bases and other strategic sites.
Dubai officials have not responded to requests for comment about the case, and court officials could not be reached on Friday.
Shahin began eating again last week after authorities agreed to set bail for his release, according to one of his U.S.-based lawyers. He was required to post 5 million dirhams ($1.4 million) bail and surrender his passport along with that of a guarantor to secure his pre-trial release.
His attorneys say he has various health issues, including high blood pressure and a stomach ulcer.