Ex-Leeds United managing director David Haigh has been ordered to pay more than £4m to his former employer GFH after a judge ruled that he had “dishonestly” taken money from the firm.
A judge at the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts found against Mr Haigh, who spent nearly two years in a Dubai jail cell accused of “misappropriating funds” from Leeds United’s former owners, without the need for a trial.
In his findings, Justice Roger Giles said Mr Haigh “sought to defend the claim against him with explanations which I considered to be lacking in credibility and a concoction”.
Mr Haigh, 39, says he is “wholly innocent of the false accusations” made against him and says the court process “has been an abuse of process and of my human rights”. He has filed a complaint about his treatment in Dubai with the United Nations.
He said the hearing last year was held during the seven weeks he spent in The Priory Hospital being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his time in detention in the United Arab Emirates.
Mr Haigh, a director at Leeds United for just over a year in 2013-14 after leading GFH Capital’s negotiations to acquire the club, was originally arrested in Dubai on May 18 2014.
He sought to defend the claim against him with explanations which I considered to be lacking in credibility and a concoction.Justice Roger Giles
He was initially detained without charge for 14 months and had his worldwide assets frozen before being convicted in August of misappropriating items of monetary value from a position of trust from his former Dubai-based employer. He was sentenced to two years in prison – the majority of which he had already served.
He was due to be released in November 2015 after being convicted of fraud, but was then charged with a further offence of slander over comments made on Twitter while he was in jail, meaning he did not return to the UK until March last year.
On his return to the UK, he revealed to The Yorkshire Post that he was abused “quite badly” during his time in custody.
The judgement released by the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts said GFH claimed Mr Haigh “misappropriated funds from the claimant in a sum with a value approximating USD 5 million by creating or procuring the creation of false invoices and procuring payment of those false invoices from funds belonging to the claimant.
“Those actions were in breach of contract and/or in breach of fiduciary duties owed by the defendant to the claimant.”
Mr Haigh was ordered to pay a combined 8,735,340 United Arab Emirates Dirham, the equivalent of £1.94 million, 50,000 US dollars and £2,039,793.70, plus interest and costs.
In his ruling, the judge concluded that Mr Haigh “acted dishonestly in misappropriating money from the claimant”.
He added: “But more than that, he sought to defend the claim against him with explanations which I considered to be lacking in credibility and a concoction.
“In the course of the proceedings the defendant brought applications and appeals with marked paucity of success and diversionary and collateral proceedings, while not engaging with the application for immediate judgement made in March 2015.
“In my opinion, his dishonest conduct and his conduct in relation to the claim brought against him was inappropriate and unreasonable, to the level of taking the case out of the norm and warranting an order for costs on the indemnity basis.
The judge said Mr Haigh was notified on the dates fixed for the hearing, but did not appear and was not represented. He said: “Nothing has been filed by the defendant in response to the application.”
Explaining his decision to reach a judgement without a trial, he wrote: “The claimant’s evidence has been full and detailed. It does not seem to me that the defendant’s position is at all likely to be better at a trial.
“He received the payments in circumstances strongly telling of misappropriation, and his explanations’ lack of credibility is such that they are not likely to be better made out or received at trial.”
“While I would be of this view in any event, I come to it more comfortably when the defendant has not by evidence or submissions enlarged on or sought to support his position in this application.
“For similar reasons, I do not think the application for immediate judgement should be refused because my reasons involved a finding of dishonesty.
“I do not think there is any other compelling reason why the case should be disposed of at trial. On the contrary, the claimant has been delayed in obtaining a hearing of the application and, having concluded that the defendant has no reasonable prospect of successfully defending its claim, I should give effect to that conclusion by ordering immediate judgement.”
Robert Dougans, solicitor for GFH, said the firm would now be looking to enforce the Dubai court’s ruling in the UK.
He said: “Mr Haigh has said a great deal but he has never addressed the central question of why lots of money ended up his bank account.
“A world-renowned and impartial judge has looked at this and rejected such explanations as he had put forward.
“Mr Haigh has had every opportunity to engage with this process but didn’t send any lawyers to turn up. He has never explained why he is able to litigate in some countries but not in others.”
Responding to the judgement, Mr Haigh told The Yorkshire Post: “I am wholly innocent of the false accusations brought against me in Dubai’s DIFC court by GFH.
“The entire process against me – from the time I was tricked by GFH into flying to Dubai to this latest biased judgement – has been an abuse of process and of my human rights.
“Incredibly, this latest hearing was held during the seven weeks I was in The Priory Hospital in the UK being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This was as a direct result of the abuse and torture to which I was subjected while being held in jail for almost two years in arbitrary detention in Dubai.
“Because of this I was not present at the hearing. Even had I been fit, I could not have attended the hearing since the DIFC court refused to guarantee my safety and freedom were I to return to Dubai, which I had requested.
“My lawyers were also not permitted to attend the hearing as the DIFC ignored requests to register them with the court and I was prevented from filing a full defence, including the expert reports and evidence which would prove my innocence at any fair trial.
“Both GFH and the DIFC were fully aware of my situation following letters sent to them by my doctors and lawyers.
“Interestingly, when the matter came before an English court just before this ‘judgement’ was handed down, GFH lost their application to serve papers on me in The Priory relating to the DIFC hearing. They were also ordered to pay costs.
“I now look forward now to GFH seeking to enforce the orders made against me by the DIFC court in an English court where my lawyers and I are confident its judgement will be thrown out.
“English courts, as the British government is aware, have made several recent rulings in other cases based on their belief that the Dubai courts lack independence and do not offer a fair trial.
“We will also be taking action against GFH and their lawyers in the USA and in the UK, in whose judicial systems I have total faith.
“While I cannot, like many UK judges, have any faith in the Dubai justice system I have also requested permission to appeal the DIFC judgement.
“Meanwhile the actions of the UAE, the DIFC court and GFH are now before the United Nations.”