A driver who tried to blackmail members of the Qatari royal family by threatening to share their private photographs if they didn’t pay him money has been sentenced to jail for more than four years by a London court.
In May 2013, Sudan-born Awad Abdulbagy, 49, had been hired to drive a private photographer working for members of the Qatari family around London during their visit to the UK.
After finding photographs of the family on a memory stick and camera left in his car, Abdulbagy threatened to send the pictures to a commercial television station or another Gulf state if he did not receive GBP600,000 (QR3.3 million) from the Qatar Embassy in London.
Embassy staff called police about the threat, and the driver and his wife Nasren Mohammed, 34, were arrested, according to the Press Association newswire.
Both were found guilty of blackmail at a trial held earlier this year at Southwark Crown Court in central London, where reporters were instructed not to name the victims.
Sentencing the defendants last Friday, Judge Anthony Pitt described their actions as “amateurish.”
Although the pictures contained “nothing disgraceful,” they were private and “highly sensitive,” the judge added.
He ordered Abdulbagy to serve four-and-a-half years in prison, and handed his wife a two-year jail term.
However, that sentence will be suspended for two years – an “act of mercy” by the court because the couple has five young children, two of whom have disabilities, the judge added.
While Mohammed played a lesser role in the scheme, her sentence reflected her position as the “steel in the back” of her husband and her initiative as being the first of the couple to telephone the embassy, PA reported.
She apparently told embassy staff that they had found the pictures and said she wanted to claim a prize.
The judge said that while the couple had initially hoped to return the lost goods for a small “thank you,” they then began attempting to extort money.
In his sentencing, he said:
“I don’t know what they would have paid … but shortly after you turned to criminal threats as to how not just to get a small thank-you, but how to get a life-changing amount of money.
It was an opportunity that formed in your mind, and perhaps that of your wife as well, of gaining a large sum of money, a life-changing sum of money. A ransom, in effect, for the return of the items,” PA reported him as saying.
During the trial, Qatari diplomat Ali Al-Hajri testified that he spoke to the couple, who at first demanded GBP600,000, and then GBP300,000 (QR1.15 million) in return for the memory stick and camera.
Al-Hajri said they then sent him threatening messages in Arabic.
“The wording is very clear when he says ‘I’m not going to wait any longer’ – this is clear blackmail,” the Daily Mail reported him as saying in court.
Prosecutor Gareth Patterson said during the trial that Abdulbagy had repeatedly called and sent messages to the embassy demanding money. He was arrested after a third meeting at the mission in London’s Mayfair.
The missing items were found in his car, which had been parked at the nearby Dorchester Hotel.