Dubai: Nakheel’s two Australian former executives were acquitted on Sunday of committing financial irregularities worth Dh44 million during their tenure at the Dubai Waterfront Project.

In a surprising twist of proceedings that elicited cheers of hooray outside the Dubai Appeal Court chamber 20, families, supporters and lawyers of the Australians, 41-year-old M.R. and 44-year-old M.J., exchanged congratulations immediately after the acquittal of the two executives.

Presiding judge Eisa Al Sharif overturned the 10-year imprisonment against M.J., the Waterfront Project’s former executive director, and cleared him of any wrongdoing.

The judge also upheld the acquittal of M.R., the project’s former operations manager.

In May, the Dubai Court of First Instance cleared M.R., and his countryman A.J., who was Dubai Waterfront’s former legal adviser, of committing any form of irregularity or abuse of public office.

Meanwhile M.J. and an Australian businessman A.R., were sentenced to 10 years in jail each.

M.J. and A.R. were jointly fined Dh44.1 million and ordered to jointly repay the amount to Nakheel.

Prosecutors appealed the primary judgement and asked the appellate court to stiffen the punishment against the four Australians.

M.J.’s lawyer Salem Al Shaali also appealed and asked the court to clear his client.

According to Sunday’s appellate ruling, presiding judge Al Sharif rejected the prosecutors’ appeal, overturned the ten-year imprisonment and acquitted M.J.

The duo were detained in February 2009 and remained in custody until the primary court granted them bail in October 2009. The two executives remained out on bail during the appellate court’s proceedings.

They were not present at the time their acquittal was pronounced in courtroom 20.

M.R.’s lawyer Ali Abdullah Al Shamsi asked the appellate court to disregard the financial report submitted by the financial control department of the ruler’s court. “The defence asks the court to disregard that financial report because it was unsubstantiated and based on unfounded reports and calculations,” he said.

Advocate Al Shamsi provided the court with several documents countering what his client, M.R., was falsely accused of doing.

M.J. and M.R. had strongly refuted their accusations of abusing public office and intentionally causing loss to Nakheel and dispersing public funds worth Dh44.1 million since the case surfaced in 2009.

Prosecutors charged M.J., M.R., and their countrymen, A.J. and A.R., with abuse of government office and intentionally damaging Nakheel’s interests by unlawfully obtaining Dh44.1 million, out of which Dh22.1 million was said to have gone to M.J.

Advocate Al Shaali countered all his client’s accusations and confirmed that the case was brought against his client out of malice and based on unsubstantiated evidence.

“There was a five-member committee that included M.J., M.R. and three top executives from Nakheel that set the prices at which the plots were sold at the Project. Why was it only those suspects who were accused of corruption? The other executives, who were the real decision makers in Nakheel, should have been tried,” Al Shaali said.

The suspects firmly denied defrauding a Dubai-based property developer and its Australian manager D.B. of Dh44.1 million.

“D.B. [the main complainant in this case] claimed before an Australian court that he was terrorised and coerced by Dubai authorities to lodge this complaint. He said he was threatened with being accused of bribery had he not lodged this malicious case,” Al Shaali argued.

Meanwhile Al Shamsi argued: “M.R. did not take a single penny. Nakheel did not incur any loss because of my client’s clean and by-the-book transactions. Prosecutors based their accusation on groundless evidence. M.R. did not abuse his job but on the contrary he worked as per the book and the orders given to him by his superiors. Do we reward good employees who carry out their duties properly and lawfully by sending them to the criminal court?”

Al Shaali told the appellate court that D.B. testified before a Melbourne court that most of his statements before Dubai prosecutors were incorrect and admitted that he lied.

Sunday’s ruling remains subject to appeal before the Cassation Court within 30 days.