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.
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.”
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.
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.”