Australia hits out over lengthy UAE court case

SYDNEY (AFP) - Foreign Minister Bob Carr has blasted as "indefensible" the length of time the legal process took in the United Arab Emirates after an Australian man was jailed for 10 years for property fraud.

Businessman Matthew Joyce was sentenced on Monday, four years after being arrested, and reportedly fined A$25 million (S$30.6 million) after being convicted over a collapsed land deal involving a property development company.

His colleague, fellow Australian Marcus Lee, was cleared of wrongdoing, paving the way for him to return home after being trapped in the Gulf state since 2009, after a trial that was front page news in Australia on Tuesday.

Joyce was managing director of Dubai Waterfront and Mr Lee his commercial chief when they were held in January 2009 over fraud claims brought by Australian property developer Sunland, which claimed it was duped into a deal.

They spent nine months in prison before being released on bail but were forbidden from leaving the emirate.

Mr Carr said 57 representations were made to UAE's rulers, culminating in Prime Minister Julia Gillard personally contacting UAE Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in February asking him to speed up the issue.

Mr Carr said the case had taken far too long to get to court, but there was a limit to what Canberra could do.

"We can support the Joyce family with strenuous consular representations, especially about the indefensible amount of time this has taken, but the substance of the case has got to be a matter pursued by their legal representation," he told ABC television.

The allegations - that Joyce received A$6 million in a plot to swindle Sunland out of more than A$12 million in the land sale - was also the subject of civil proceedings in an Australian court, which cleared both men.

Joyce said he would appeal.

"My family and I are still coming to terms with it," he said in a statement.

"I will of course appeal this decision. I am innocent of the charges against me."