Ex-Leeds United MD Haigh: My Dubai prison hell FULL INTERVIEW

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As he sat in his office in Dubai in May 2014, a few weeks after resigning as managing director of Leeds United, waiting for a business meeting to start, David Haigh was oblivious to the dramatic change of course his life was about to take.

After flying over for talks with his former employer Gulf Finance House (GFH) about setting up a private equity investment house, Mr Haigh describes being confronted by a local policeman who wanted to speak to him about an irregularity with a cheque.

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The 38-year-old, who led GFH’s negotiations with ex-Leeds United owner Ken Bates in 2012, says he was taken to a nearby police station where he attempted to re-pay the relatively small amount of money owed.

“Then they say there is something else, they take me to a room at the side”, he said: “They keep me waiting for an hour, then another hour, and then a lady came in and said ‘did you take 23 million?’. I said ‘what do you mean’, she said ‘GFH. 23 million. Where is it?’.

This accusation, which ultimately saw him convicted in 2015, was the start of a two-year ordeal which saw him incarcerated for many months in “horrific” conditions in the Bur Dubai police centre and subjected to frequent attacks.

He said: “At that time, imagine, I had gone from running a football club, to having stomach surgery, to getting on a plane, to landing, to sitting in a police station, being whacked in the face by some dodgy police guy wearing a green uniform, shouting at me in Arabic ‘where is the money’.”

After being told he was not getting bail, he describes being led down a corridor to the cramped centre without further explanation of the charges against him.

He said: “I will never forget, the smell got so bad as you walked towards the door where they were going to put you in. It was horrific, a mixture of everything you don’t want to smell in your life.

“They opened this iron door and pushed me in, and slammed it shut. There were no papers, or ‘this is what you have been accused of’, that was it.

“I was in a block that was built for 32. At most times there was between 50 and 100 people there. The AC wasn’t working, the toilet was a hole in the ground. The food I couldn’t eat, because I could only have a liquid diet and the food was disgusting in any event.

“It was pretty horrific. It was hot, it was dirty, there were piles of rubbish everywhere, there were holes in the ground that were meant to be toilets that were leaking everywhere.

“Outside there was a hole in the roof where there was some metal grating, and you could see the towers of Dubai. You can see the Dubai that everyone else sees, but you can also see the dungeon below it.”

In late 2015, he was convicted of “breach of trust” for defrauding GFH of £3m by falsifying 
invoices and diverting money into accounts controlled by him.

In the months that led up to this, Mr Haigh says he struggled to defend himself against the accusations against a background of regular abuse and beatings of his fellow inmates.

His worldwide assets were frozen, meaning he was unable to access the medicine he needed following recent stomach surgery, and initially could not speak to his lawyers for more than two minutes a week.

He said: “You are surrounded by this depravity. I will never forget, I was sitting there and the police are torturing a guy behind me.

“I don’t know what he had done, but they had thrown him on the floor, tasering him, kicking him in the head, three or four of them, getting a catapult, putting it on his testicles.

“The mental anguish that puts you through, that you are under a constant threat of abuse, that continued all the way through.

“A month before I left where I was recently, I was standing in the corridor waiting to get some painkillers and a guard came and hit me over the head with a broom handle for no apparent reason.”

Mr Haigh was finally released from jail nearly two years later. His time in custody was extended a few days before he was due to finish his original sentence when he was accused of abusing GFH on Twitter, an offence of which he was later cleared.

Earlier this year, Mr Haigh’s case was taken up by Human Rights Watch, which said authorities should drop the cyber-slander charges, release Mr Haigh and scrap the law that criminalises slander.

The influential human rights organisation criticised the Middle Eastern nation’s “repressive” cybercrime laws and said Mr Haigh has had hearings to consider his case postponed six times since being detained in November.

After returning to the UK last month and spending time with his family, Mr Haigh was in London this week to discuss his plans with his legal team.

He spoke to the Yorkshire Evening Post from his suite at the Soho Hotel, a regular venue for meetings with Leeds United top brass during his time at the club.

Occasionally he breaks off to take a call on his mobile phone, whose protective case bears the Leeds United crest.

He lost around 40 kilos in weight during his time in Dubai, and is strikingly different in the flesh to images of him from 2013. The impact on his health, he says, has been “kind of bad”.

“The abuse I suffered, I was punched around, I was hit, I was tasered. People attempted to sexually abuse me.

“I have a problem with my eyes, you are constantly kept in the dark, the lights are very rarely on, so you can’t see properly, it damages your eyes.

“Just the unbelievable stress you go through, you are trying to defend yourself and tell the world.”

Reflecting on his ordeal, Mr Haigh says he now wants to raise awareness of the potential perils of travelling to Dubai for those enticed by the nightlife, luxury shopping and sporting events.

He said: “They have done it to me and I have got through it. My aim for the mistreatment and torture is to raise awareness for the people who are still there.

“If I can stop one 20-year-old British kid who gets caught drinking a bit too much on the beach, when he goes to Dubai thinking it is a great holiday destination, he goes out with his mates and has a drink, causes offence to a local, he gets put in prison and they torture him, if I can stop that one person, that is enough for me.”

He added: “I want the British Embassy to make a travel warning, to people, tourists and businessmen who go to Dubai, that you need to be aware of the law on social media, you can end up in jail. You need to be aware of the law on cheques, the law on all these things. Don’t paint the picture that it is 100 per cent rosy.

“Yes it is a nice place to visit, but if there is an issue, or if you fall foul of a vindictive person, and they are everywhere, then you have got to be careful.

“I don’t think most British people, going from Leeds, or wherever, if they go on a boys trip or a girls trip to Dubai, they don’t think of this.

“They see the towers, the nightclubs, they think it is all fine. But if you hold hands with your girlfriend you are breaking the law, if you kiss them you are breaking the law.”

In the short term, he plans to start work getting his original conviction and the worldwide freezing of his assets overturned.

He said: “I am here this week speaking to lawyers and then I will be getting medical treatment for my eyes and the stress and all sorts of horrible things that have happened to me, After that my legal fightback needs to begin.”

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