Former Leeds United managing director David Haigh has today told of the abuse and torture he suffered at the hands of police in Dubai during the two years he spent in the Arab city’s notorious penal system.
The 38-year-old has spoken publicly for the first time about his time in custody since returning to the UK last month from Dubai, where he was convicted of taking more than £3 million from his former employers Gulf Finance House (GFH).
Mr Haigh was arrested and thrown into a police detention centre in May 2014 after travelling to the United Arab Emirates to meet with officials from GFH, the former owners of Leeds United.
An extended version of the interview with David Haigh is in today’s Yorkshire Evening Post. And don’t miss tomorrow’s edition as he lifts the lid on his turbulent time at Leeds United.
He spent 18 months in “revolting” conditions at the temporary holding site at Bur Dubai police station, where British tourist Lee Brown died in 2011 following an alleged beating by local police.
His time in custody was extended by several months after GFH claimed he had abused them on Twitter, though he was ultimately cleared of cyber-slander, a criminal offence in Dubai.
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.David Haigh
Though he says he could not reveal the mistreatment he suffered at the time for fear it would harm his legal case, Mr Haigh, who was in charge of the day-to-day running at Leeds United following GFH’s 2012 take-over of the club, now says he was abused “quite badly”.
At various points he said he was punched, tasered and hit with a broom handle, as well as being tortured by police in one incident a few weeks after he arrived.
He said: “They came and got me in the middle of the night, they took me outside to the car park, then moved me into a room, and then I was quite seriously physically abused, tasered, whacked in the face, made to stand in strange positions, and told repeatedly ‘where is the money’.
“I was told if I confessed I could go home. I said I wouldn’t confess, I didn’t do it, you can carry on torturing me.”
Mr Haigh has filed a complaint with the British Embassy in the hope that the matter will be taken up with Dubai authorities, and called on the UK Government to issue clearer warnings to people intending to travel to the UAE.
After travelling to Dubai to discuss what he thought was an employment opportunity with Bahrain-based GFH he was initially quizzed by police over a bounced cheque, an offence in Dubai, only to be later accused of fraud and embezzlement.
While imprisoned in the overcrowded 32-bed police block, he said he was initially only allowed to see his lawyer for two minutes at a time and was not allowed access to any legal documents so he could defend himself.
He was convicted in 2015 of using false invoices and diverting GFH funds into accounts controlled by him. He continues to deny the claim and plans to appeal against the conviction and the freezing of his worldwide assets.
He told the YEP: “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.”
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said it took Mr Haigh’s allegations of mistreatment “extremely seriously” and were “setting out our concerns to the UAE authorities”. He said: “We only raise allegations of mistreatment when we have the individual’s consent to do so.”
He added: “Our travel advice makes clear that UAE laws and customs are very different to those in the UK and travellers are strongly advised to familiarise themselves with them.
“The advice also says there may be serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK.”
April 2014: David Haigh resigns as managing director of Leeds United.
May 2014: Mr Haigh is arrested by Dubai police. He protests his innocence against accusations of fraud, embezzlement and financial irregularities.
August 2014: A high Court judge bars Mr Haigh from dealing in his assets. Mr Justice Males imposes an asset freezing order at a High Court hearing in London.
August 2015: After being charged, Mr Haigh is handed a two-year jail sentence after being convicted of “breach of trust” in Dubai.
October 2015: Mr Haigh is ordered to pay out more than £200,000 in court costs after a failed private prosecution where he claimed he was the victim of “human trafficking”.
December 2015: Mr Haigh is told he faces Christmas in prison after being accused of cyber slander.
March 2016: Campaign group Human Rights Watch says Mr Haigh should be released immediately and criticises its “repressive” laws. After being cleared of the offence, he returns home to the UK.