LONDON: The prime minister of Australia has raised with his Iraqi counterpart the case of an engineer jailed in Baghdad, whose health is worsening in detention, it was reported on Friday.
Anthony Albanese spoke with Mustafa Al-Kadhimi about Robert Pether’s condition, which is “rapidly deteriorating” due to the engineer being “gravely ill,” according to a Guardian report.
Australian Pether has been held in a Baghdad prison for more than 14 months over a deal-gone-wrong between his engineering firm and the central bank of Iraq to build its new headquarters in the capital. According to his family, Pether is not guilty of a crime and his trial was “unfair.”
According to the Guardian report, Pether has been made aware of Albanese’s quizzing of Al-Kadhimi and plans to write a letter of thanks to the Australian premier.
“He is afraid to be ‘hopeful,’” Pether’s wife Desree told the Guardian Australia. “But he is immensely grateful to Anthony Albanese and (foreign minister) Penny Wong for stepping up and taking action pretty much straight away.”
She continued: “Robert is gravely ill, he is completely grey. He is 47 and looks 74. He is also still suffering from dizziness and low blood pressure. He is declining rapidly.”
Al-Kadhimi’s office confirmed a discussion was held with Albanese, but made no reference to the Pether case, only saying the two leaders covered “bilateral relations between the two countries and stressed the importance of strengthening joint cooperation.”
Pether, and Egyptian colleague Khalid Radwan, were arrested on their return to Iraq in April 2021 when they were attempting to resolve a dispute between their firm, CME Consulting, and the Iraqi government.
After their trial, which rights groups have deemed “deeply compromised,” both men were found guilty of fraud, sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay back $12 million they were alleged to have misspent instead of paying architects and subcontractors.
Amid allegations of mistreatment in their Baghdad prison, the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in a report released in March that both Pether and Radwan’s detention was “arbitrary” and a breach of international law. The group has demanded both men be immediately released.