UAE acquits British football tycoon over 'slanderous' tweet

UAE acquits British football tycoon over 'slanderous' tweet
3 min read
21 March, 2016
Briton David Haigh, the former managing director of Leeds United, has been acquitted in Dubai over charges relating to a tweet.
Haigh was accused of sending an offensive tweet about a business partner [Getty]

The former managing director of British football club Leeds United was acquitted on Monday of a cybercrime charge over a tweet sent on his behalf while he was held in a Dubai prison.

David Haigh will remain imprisoned for a few more days while Dubai prosecutors decide whether to appeal against the court's decision, lawyer Michel Chalhoub said.

Chalhoub said he was hopeful Haigh, who has been imprisoned on fraud charges since May 2014, would be freed soon - though the ongoing financial case between him and Dubai-based GFH Capital will go on.

"Of course, he will be in good spirits, as that's the end of the tunnel," the lawyer said.

Ian Monk, a spokesman for Haigh, also welcomed the acquittal.

"David now hopes to be reunited with his family in the UK for Easter," Monk said. "[Haigh] will have more to say then."

A spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based GFH Financial Group, whose wholly owned Dubai subsidiary still has a 25 percent stake in the second-tier football club, has not commented on the verdict.

      Human rights groups have condemned the UAE's cyber laws [Getty]

Haigh had been a deputy chief executive at GFH Capital.

The decision is the latest in the long legal tangle between Haigh and GFH, with both accusing the other of financial mismanagement. Haigh was convicted of fraud in August 2015, a year after his arrest.

Just before Haigh's scheduled release, his supporters say a case was filed alleging he had committed "cyber slander" through a tweet about GFH sent on his behalf, keeping him imprisoned.

Haigh has maintained his innocence throughout.

The United Arab Emirates, though liberal compared with some other Gulf countries, has stiff penalties under its cybercrimes law, which criminalises publishing photographs online without a subject's permission or writing messages with the intent to defame or offend. It also tightly controls access to media, with news outlets including The New Arab banned.

Human rights activists have criticised the cyber-crime law as being overly broad.

"David Haigh's acquittal is a positive step and shows that the UAE's courts are standing up to absurd invocations of its cybercrime law, but many more will remain at risk of similar treatment unless repressive provisions of this law are repealed," said Nicholas McGeehan, Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch has previously described the cyber charges as "repressive" and had asked the UK government to call for his release.

Leeds won the English top-flight title in 1992 and reached the Champions League semifinals in 2001 before falling into financial difficulties. Italian Massimo Cellino owns a 75 percent stake in the club.

Agencies contributed to this report.