An Iraqi court has sentenced an Australian engineer – whose wife and three children are Irish citizens – to five years in prison after the company that employs him got into a row with local government officials over payments.
Sydney native Robert “Rob” Pether, aged 46, was arrested in the Iraqi capital when he arrived at a client meeting with the Central Bank of Iraq on 7th April.
He has been held in custody on unclear charges ever since, and the court in Baghdad has now told him he will not be released until at least 2026 in a hearing on Wednesday, 25th August.
The news has devastated his Irish-Australian wife and three children living in Elphin in County Roscommon in Ireland.
The undefined charges are believed to be related to the work of his employer, Dubai-based CME Consulting.
The company had been contracted to work on the headquarters of the Central Bank of Iraq, designed by the renowned British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, who passed away in 2016.
It was awarded the contract, worth GBP 24 million, in 2015. However, the fall in global oil prices coupled with the country’s war on the Islamic State terrorist group resulted in the project being suspended the following year.
Work recommenced in 2018, with CME Consulting working for 39 of the 48 months mandated by the contract, having been paid for just 32 months before the payments stopped.
The Central Bank then asked CME to prolong the contract by three months to compensate for work suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year. However, it refused to pay for the extension, leading to CME objecting.
Furthermore, the Central Bank also asked CME to return the equivalent of around GBP 8.7 million for reasons unclear.
Rob and his Egyptian colleague, Khalid Zaghlol, were arrested amid this contractual dispute, and Rob’s wife, Desree, believes their detentions were an attempt to extort money from their employer.
Rob and Desree have two sons aged 18 and 15 and a daughter aged 8. Their eldest son has reportedly delayed his university plans due to stress over his father’s predicament.
It was last reported that Rob was being held in a cramped cell with 22 local inmates.
Rob had previously spoken of his joy at being part of the rebuilding of Iraq.