Wife of Australian engineer 'trapped' by Iraq employers urges government intervention

Wife of Australian engineer 'trapped' by Iraq employers urges government intervention
Robert Pether’s wife says he was detained as ‘leverage" amid a dispute with Iraq's central bank
3 min read
01 May, 2021
Pether travelled to Baghdad for a meeting with the central bank on April 1 [Getty]
The wife of an Australian man who has been detained for three weeks in Iraq has urged the Australian foreign minister, Marise Payne, to intervene and help free her husband. 

Robert Pether, a mechanical engineer, was working on the construction of the Central Bank of Iraq's new headquarters, until a contractual dispute arose in the project. 

Pether and a colleague then flew to Baghdad from Dubai on April 1, after the bank invited him to resolve the issue, but they were both arrested soon after arriving for the meeting.

He has been held in solitary confinement and given no access to a phone or computer, his family alleges.

His wife, Desree Pether, said that he is being kept in jail as “leverage” to help the country’s central bank. She also claimed that the bank laid a deliberate trap to lure him to the country and to use him in the contractual dispute.

When Pether asked Australian embassy in Iraq if he would be safe, the embassy assured him he would, Desree added. 

“This is one of the top engineers from Australia and he went over in good faith after dutifully checking with the embassy and specifically explaining the situation that there was a dispute between his employer and the Central Bank of Iraq,” she told The Guardian.

“My appeal is if [Payne] could use everything at her disposal to get him out, because it’s just going round in circles, and he is literally being used as unwitting leverage in a dispute.”

The Australian foreign affairs department previously said it is seeking “urgent consular access” to an Australian detained in Iraq and “remains in contact with his family and lawyer,” The Guardian reported.

It added that its general advice is to avoid travel to Iraq due to the risk of violence, kidnapping, armed conflict and the volatile security situation.

The couple have an eight year old daughter, and two sons aged 15 and 17. Desree Pether said her husband feels betrayed by both Iraq and Australia’s governments.

“He’s literally just bewildered. He feels betrayed because of how much effort he’s put in, 18 hour days for four years, time away from his family, devoted to this project,” she said.

Pether, who had been involved with the bank project for four years, tweeted in 2017 about the project in Iraq and how much he was enjoying the country.

"I know I always says this – but just coming home after a 2 week stint in Baghdad. Do not believe what the media says – Baghdad is safe. It is a city full of hope, resilience, and potential. Every trip is an experience and shows me something new. I have so much respect for the Iraqi people and genuinely enjoy working with them."

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