Canadian geologist detained in Dubai for six years is back home after charges dropped

MONTREAL — After years in and out of jail in Dubai, one escape attempt, and being embroiled in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme, André Gauthier is finally home.

Gauthier, a geologist who spent years in legal limbo after allegedly uncovering fraud in a gold company, said on Tuesday he was at a Dubai hotel last week when he received a call from authorities telling him he could leave the country.

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The criminal charges against him had been dropped last June but it took nearly a year to get parallel civil cases dismissed and for authorities to negotiate his release.

"It was Day 328 that I'd been waiting for that call," he said in a phone interview from Quebec City, referring to the time he spent waiting to leave Dubai after the criminal charges were dropped.

"I don't have to tell you, I didn't sleep that night."

The 67-year-old said he was first arrested in 2015 after he alerted authorities in the United Arab Emirates to irregular dealings in gold-trading company Gold AE.

He and his lawyer, however, say he was made a scapegoat in the $30-million fraud case after the real perpetrators left the country and the company's investors filed complaints against him.

Gauthier said the hardest thing about his ordeal was feeling unheard. "You think you’re doing the right thing by whistleblowing something and bringing it to the authorities, and bringing it to the leadership of the company," said Gauthier, who was himself one of the company's directors.

"(You feel) like you’re doing all this for nothing, basically because nobody wanted to solve it."

A low point came when Gauthier, who was facing about 70 criminal charges, tried to escape to Oman in 2019 and was intercepted and jailed. It was the only time his faith in his release wavered.

"I just sent a message to my son, my wife and my daughter to say that they better be forgetting me because with what I had in front of me, I don't know when or if I would be back," he said.

U.K.-based lawyer Radha Stirling credits the Canadian government for making a sustained diplomatic effort to free her client, as well as Gauthier's family for lobbying tirelessly for his release.

"I think the Canadian government's done a good job and set a very good example to other countries on how this can be done," she said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Her only criticism is that she feels it took too long to secure his freedom. The real perpetrators of the case, Stirling said, have not been brought to justice.

Stirling, founder of the organization Detained in Dubai, said she also believes foreign governments need to do more to stand up to the U.A.E. government.

"These money-laundering scams in the U.A.E. are going on all the time and we're getting more and more, and they're targeting Canadian investors and American investors, and we're turning a blind eye to this kind of abuse," she said.

Gauthier said his father diedin Quebec while he was detained, and he exhausted his financial resources fighting the cases.

Now home quarantining with his wife, he says he'll spend the next few weeks and months getting his driver's licence and health insurance back, and wants to visit his extended family in Quebec's Saguenay region. Eventually, he's interested in getting back into the mining industry.

He wants to pass on a message to the families of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians who have been detained in China in an apparent retaliation for Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, to tell them not to give up.

"I can tell those families it’s important to keep the faith that the government will try to find a solution," he said.

"How long will it take, unfortunately it’s a file that’s much more complicated than mine, but they have to keep the hope that everything will work out in a reasonable time frame."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2021.

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