The family of a British prisoner in Dubai has called on foreign investors such as lender JPMorgan and fund manager BlackRock to divest their stakes in Dubai Islamic Bank, which they blame for the relative’s prolonged detention.
Ryan Cornelius, 68, has been jailed in the Gulf’s commercial capital for 14 years after being arrested in 2008 with three other people, including his former business partner Charles Ridley.
All four were convicted of defrauding DIB, which is part-owned by the Dubai government, in 2011.
At the end of their sentences in 2018, following an application by the bank, a judge in Dubai extended their detention by 20 years until they settled $430 million in alleged debts. The judge retroactively applied a 2009 law that provides for the imposition of a prison sentence for failure to repay fraudulent gains from government entities.
The offense for which Cornelius was convicted predated the 2009 law.
The family of Cornelius, whose health is deteriorating, have campaigned for his release. It has called on the UK to impose sanctions for alleged human rights abuses against DIB chairman Mohammed Al Shaibani in relation to Cornelius’s disproportionate sentence and what it sees as cruel treatment and arbitrary detention in prison.
Shaibani is also a high-ranking official in the emirate.
The family said the DIB applied to extend Cornelius’ sentence and, as his effective jailer, could seek to overturn the sentence.
The DIB said they had acted “properly, in the interests of shareholders and in accordance with applicable laws at all times”.
“This dispute has been the subject of detailed review in two jurisdictions and the unanimous conclusion of the trials in both England and Dubai is that these men are guilty of fraud,” it added.
A group of UK MPs, including former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Stephen Kinnock, have also called on the UK government to “show the same energy” in Cornelius’ case as it did to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from detention in Iran.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention this year concluded that Cornelius had been held arbitrarily and called for his immediate release and payment of compensation.
Cornelius has claimed that legal remedies were used to force him into bankruptcy. He had been repaying installments on a restructuring agreement on the DIB loan of 501 million dollars until he was detained in 2008, thereby defaulting. The bank foreclosed on the loan’s collateral, a polo-themed real estate development worth about $1 billion. DIB has claimed that the restructuring of the loan was illegal.
Bill Browder, a longtime Kremlin critic who lobbied for the Global Magnitsky Act, which authorizes sanctions against foreign officials identified as human rights abusers, said: “This is a total travesty of justice, where a bank can hold an individual hostage over an alleged non-criminal. -payment of debt, even when it doesn’t actually look like money is owed.
In a letter to BlackRock, Ryan Cornelius’ wife Heather noted the fund manager’s commitment to “engage with companies on how they address the human rights issues inherent in their businesses”.
“I urge you to divest yourself of your holdings in DIB,” she wrote. “Use your influence as a significant shareholder in DIB to force them to take all necessary steps to secure my husband’s release.”
Cornelius has written similar letters to other global companies identified as having some of the largest institutional shareholdings in DIB. These include JPMorgan, US investment manager Vanguard, British asset manager St James’s Place and Norges Bank Investment Management, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund.
Diplomats have said it is difficult for the British government to interfere in the legal processes of a foreign country. The United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates have close historical ties.
BlackRock, JPMorgan and St James’s Place declined to comment. Vanguard did not respond to a request for comment.
NBIM said it is studying the letter.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office did not provide a statement for publication.