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Al Jazeera Children's Channel executives.

Riham Sheble

Al Jazeera Children’s Channel executives.

After spending more than two years on trial, three former television executives were formally cleared of charges of financial mismanagement in a Doha courtroom this morning.

A judge said the court officially acknowledged that the prosecutor is withdrawing his lawsuit against former Al Jazeera Children’s Channel (JCC) 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.

“Finally, justice has triumphed,” Bouneb told Doha News after the judge’s ruling was read out.

Today’s hearing came more than two months after the prosecutor told the court that he was withdrawing the charges against the trio.

Lower criminal court in Doha

Shabina S. Khatri

Lower criminal court in Doha

However, the case could not be officially dropped without the official endorsement of the chairman of Al Jazeera Media Network, which acquired JCC from Qatar Foundation in 2013.

According to Bouneb, the trio has also reached a settlement with Al Jazeera outside of court to receive some 3.5 years worth of payment in salaries that they would have earned, had they not been fired in September 2011.

Under the terms of the settlement, Bouneb said he had to promise not to speak negatively about Al Jazeera or QF.

They will also receive other financial dues, such as their end-of-service gratuity.

But they will not receive compensation for any of the emotional trauma they incurred during what Bouneb previously called a “shameful” prosecution.

“We have suffered for a long time without anyone paying attention to our ordeal,” Qudaih told Doha News. “I am pleased and relieved to see the end of this case.”

Legal saga

The three defendants were fired alongside approximately 30 other station employees in the fall 2011. They were subsequently accused of financial mismanagement and placed under a travel ban, but did not make their first court appearance until February 2013.

Charges were formally presented in May of that year. Bouneb has said the three were accused of mismanaging approximately QR3.1 million (US$851,460) over eight years.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Penn State/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

During the proceedings, auditors from both the Qatar National Audit Bureau and accounting firm Ernst & Young said they found evidence of administrative transgressions, such as neglecting to obtain the necessary approvals for certain projects.

However, witnesses testified that there was “no way” the defendants had “committed any embezzlement crimes or harmed intentionally the Channel funds.”

Nevertheless, the trial continued for another two years. Reports emerged in November that Tunisian diplomats had taken up the case with Qatari authorities and had received assurances that the case would be dropped and that the trio would receive the “financial dues” owed to them.

The prosecutor moved to drop the charges against them slightly more than a month later without explanation.

Bouneb said today that the trio’s travel ban had been lifted in late December, but that they chose not to leave Qatar because they wanted to stay and clear their name. Additionally, leaving the country would have required an exit permit from their sponsor.

Alouane said they did not want to submit an application to Al Jazeera until the trial had concluded.

None of the three executives would discuss their future plans in any detail, but Bouneb said he has not ruled out continuing his career in Qatar.

“Despite my anger for losing four years of my life for nothing, I have nothing against Qatar as a country, its leadership or people. And Qatar has no standing legal problems with me,” he told Doha News.

“The most important thing for me right now is to rest and rehabilitate myself.”

Thoughts?

Mahmoud Bouneb.

Friends to Free Mahmoud Bouneb/Facebook

Mahmoud Bouneb.

 

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.

Previous allegations

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.

Current criminal court in Doha

Shabina S. Khatri

Current criminal court in Doha

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.

Thoughts?

Mahmoud Bouneb.

Friends to Free Mahmoud Bouneb/Facebook

Mahmoud Bouneb.

After more than two dozen hearings spanning nearly two years, a local prosecutor has abruptly moved to withdraw criminal charges against three former television executives accused of financial impropriety in Qatar.

However, representatives of the trio’s former employer – Al Jazeera Children’s Channel (JCC) – failed to appear in court yesterday and, despite being notified of the prosecutor’s intentions on Dec. 30, have so far refused to provide a written endorsement of the legal move.

JCC’s sign-off is required to officially terminate the case against 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.

The three defendants and roughly 30 other station employees were fired in September 2011. They were subsequently accused of financial mismanagement and placed under a travel ban, but did not make their first court appearance until February 2013.

Charges were formally presented in May of that year. Bouneb previously said the three were accused of mismanaging approximately QR3.1 million (US$851,460) over eight years.

Cleared of wrongdoing

Doha criminal court

Shabina S. Khatri

Doha criminal court

During the ongoing legal proceedings, auditors testified that they found evidence of administrative transgressions, such as neglecting to obtain the necessary approvals for certain projects.

However, witnesses from both the Qatar National Audit Bureau and accounting firm Ernst & Young cleared the trio of any criminal wrongdoing. E&Y concluded that there was “no way” the accused “committed any embezzlement crimes or harmed intentionally the Channel funds.”

A verdict was scheduled to be presented in June 2014. It was first pushed back by a week, then delayed even further when the judge ordered the formation of a technical panel to review the programming produced under the trio’s watch and evaluate if any overspending occurred.

That committee was scheduled to return to court last week on Dec. 30 to either present its findings or request more time. However, the committee’s appearance was preempted by the prosecutor’s decision to drop the charges.

Legal maneuvering

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

JCC

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The prosecutor has not given any reason for his move. But in November, Tunisian media reported that the country’s foreign minister had negotiated an agreement with Qatari authorities that would lead to the lawsuit against Bouneb being withdrawn.

All three defendants declined to comment to Doha News following yesterday’s scheduled court hearing, which was ultimately postponed after the lawyer for JCC failed to show up.

JCC was owned by Qatar Foundation until the Al Jazeera Media Network acquired it in 2013. Representatives of the station were not immediately available for comment.

While the JCC lawyer has previously indicated that the media company would not object to the charges being withdrawn, the written endorsement of its chairman is still required. It’s not clear what would happen if JCC objects, although one possibility is that the case could be referred to a civil court.

It’s believed the trio would still require JCC to issue them exit permits before they would be able to leave Qatar.

Yesterday, a court clerk informed the defendants that the judge had instructed the court to send JCC a formal written notification, but did not specify its contents.

The next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 5.

Thoughts?