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Dublin: 15 °C Wednesday 15 July, 2020

Irishman and father of 8 held in one of Abu Dhabi's most notorious prisons

John White, a property developer from Clonmel in Country Tipperary is in prison over a €500,000 debt he could not pay.

Al Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi.
Al Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi.
Image: Google Maps

AN IRISH MAN  is being held in a 4X4 cell with six other grown men in one of Abu Dhabi’s most notorious prisons.

John White, a property developer from Clonmel in Country Tipperary who had a construction company in the Middle East, is being held in the prison over a €500,000 debt he could not pay.

The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed to that it is providing consular assistance an Irish citizen detained in Abu Dhabi.

Irish embassy assistance 

White’s sister, Eileen  O’Brien, took to RTÉ’s Joe Duffy Show yesterday to criticise the help her brother has received from the Irish embassy.

The father of eight’s construction business in the Middle East built schools, shopping centres and hotels but went bust in the recession. Following a trip home to Ireland in 2012, White returned to Abu Dhabi and was met by police at the airport.

He was taken to a police station where he stayed for a number of days before being taken to court for a sum of €500,000 he owed to creditors. He claimed he was owed a far greater amount by other suppliers.

He was sentenced to two years in prison. After serving his term he returned to court to collect his passport, which his sister explained was being withheld by the authorities.

Upon presenting to court, he was told that another creditor had taken a civil case against White and he sentenced to a further three years in prison in his absence.

Prison life 

White has to date been in prison for three years.

“It’s a year down the road and the Irish embassy have done nothing for John and his appeal,” said his distraught sister.

“I want the Irish embassy to get more involved.”

Al Wathba prison where White is being held has been slammed by the international human rights watchdog Prison Watch for its conditions.

There have been reports of lashings, lice infected blankets and severe overcrowding at the prison.

O’Brien said her brother’s case had been raised with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, who says he is aware of it.

“He said John is getting extensive support from the embassy – that is certainly not the case,” said  O’Brien.

She said her brother was certain he was going to be released after serving his first two years as he was not present in court for the second case taken against him.

Father of eight, aged 60 

White, who turned 60 on 1 July, is in good health under the circumstances, said his sister.

He is not being ill-treated and is keeping busy in the prison workshop making chairs and tables.

He is being kept with those who have committed other white-collar crimes and away from dangerous murderers.

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“The food is atrocious and the sanitary conditions are diabolical,” said his sister, who added prisoners are not allowed outside for any exercise.

In the day temperatures can reach up to 50 degrees while at night it is very cold.

White is currently in a cell with six other men where there is one open toilet to use.

“I don’t know why they are not doing more for him,” asked  O’Brien

“I can only do so much… I can do nothing really from here, only try to contact people who may have the power to do something for him.”

This April, when asked by TD Mattie McGrath about what measures were in place to protect White in prison, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan stated that embassy officials pay regular consular visits to Al Wathba jail.

Up to mid April, he said the Deputy Head of Mission and Consul at the Embassy in Abu Dhabi has visited White on two occasions.

“Following each visit, the Embassy official met with senior prison officers to raise and discuss with them, any issues of concern reported by the Irish citizen.”

“Additional support from the Embassy has been extensive and has included securing permission for a friend to visit the person named and facilitating the transfer of funds from the person’s family to their prison account.”

He confirmed his passport is in the possession of the Emirati authorities, as would be the normal practice for any foreign citizen detained in that country.

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