A local broadcaster has given its consent for withdrawing criminal charges against three former employees of Al Jazeera Children’s Channel (JCC), who have been on trial facing accusations of financial impropriety for two years.
The decision, heard in a Doha court earlier today, follows last month’s abrupt move by a prosecutor to drop charges against the three defendants, pending the approval of Al Jazeera Media Network.
The prominent broadcaster was asked to weigh in even though it was not involved in the initial complaint. JCC was owned by Qatar Foundation when the alleged offenses were said to have taken place. The station came under the control of Al Jazeera Media Network in 2013, after legal proceedings were underway.
Representatives of Al Jazeera said in court that since the money the defendants are accused of mismanaging are technically public funds, the network would leave it up to the prosecutor’s judgement as to whether to continue with the legal proceedings.
With the prosecutor and Al Jazeera agreeing to withdraw the charges, the judge adjourned today’s court session and scheduled a hearing for February 12 to deliver his verdict.
Today’s hearing came two years to the day after the three defendants – former manager Mahmoud Bouneb, a Tunisian-Canadian, and his Moroccan wife, the station’s former programming director Malika Alouane, as well as Palestinian expat Haitham Qudaih, the ex-cost controller – first appeared in court.
They were fired in September 2011 by JCC along with roughly 30 members of the channel’s senior staff.
While no reason was given at the time for their termination, Bouneb and his co-defendants were subsequently accused of financial impropriety and placed under a travel ban that prevented them from leaving Qatar.
It took more than a year and a half before charges were read out in court, which Bouneb said accused of mismanaging approximately QR3.1 million (US$851,460) over eight years.
An audit by accounting firm Ernst & Young found instances of “administrative misconduct” by Bouneb, such providing insufficient supporting documentation for travel claims and approving contracts without obtaining the required co-signature of a board member.
But an Ernst & Young representative testified that none of the three on trial committed any form of embezzlement or “harmed intentionally the channel’s funds.”
A verdict was scheduled to be presented in June 2014, but was subsequently delayed after the judge ordered an additional investigation into the programming created at the station under the trio’s watch.
However, Tunisian media reported in November that the country’s foreign minister had negotiated an agreement with Qatari authorities that would lead to the lawsuit against Bouneb being withdrawn.
The three defendants declined to comment to Doha News about today’s court hearing.