jail, prison, imprisonment
Illustrative image. Image Credit: iStockphoto

Abu Dhabi: Members of the Federal National Council (FNC) on Tuesday remotely passed a draft law on the UAE’s first whistleblower and witness-protection scheme.

In its first session via a video link after the COVID-19 outbreak, the House members said the legislation, which provides security to people who may come under threat for giving evidence in court cases, is a landmark step for the country’s judicial system.

Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, told the House that the witness-protection scheme is usually required in trials against organised crime, where law-enforcement sees a risk for witnesses to be intimidated by colleagues of defendants.

Sheikh Saif cited two incidents of a witness and a whistleblower who came under threat and intimidation for testimony in a murder and a drug-smuggling case.

Sheikh Saif said Al Capone [the infamous American gangster, who dominated organised crime in Chicago from 1925 to 1931] and the Italian mafia used to kill judges or members of their families during, and after, their trials.

The bill, once signed into a law by President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, will establish norms, procedures and mechanisms to facilitate and encourage the reporting of acts of corruption that are liable for administrative or criminal investigation and punishment and to protect public officials and any other person who, in good faith, reports or witnesses these acts.

Penalties for people who breach the scheme and leak confidential information could include fines up to Dh100,000 or six months in jail.

The same penalties are applicable to protected persons who expose themselves, while those who abuse the scheme to enjoy its benefits face a jail term and a fine of up to Dh30,000.

Under the bill, death penalty will be handed down to offenders who expose protected persons and cause them to be killed.

The judicial authority handling a case decides on who is to be enrolled in the protection scheme.

Dr Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, head of the FNC committee, said the draft law aims to encourage people to report serious crimes.

“The government had proposed this bill as part of its efforts to achieve a safe society and a fair judiciary,” said the FNC member from Abu Dhabi. “The bill aims to encourage whistleblowers and witnesses to come up, report and testify against criminals - well-assured that their protection is guaranteed by the law. Participation of the public in detecting and reporting criminals to the police will reduce crimes across the country.”

The law will be enforced three months after its publication in the official gazette.

The scheme covers whistleblowes and witnesses in serious crimes such as human trafficking, money laundering, terrorism and smuggling of narcotics.

Once admitted to the scheme, whistleblowers and witnesses must sign an agreement on compliance obligations, which is a document that enumerates both, the obligations and actions of the authority responsible for granting protection and the obligations and actions to be undertaken by whistleblowers and witnesses, as well as the sanctions that may be imposed on the latter for noncompliance, which may include

expulsion from the said scheme.