EDITORIAL: PM must intervene to free Aussie dad Robert Pether from Iraqi jail

The Nightly
3 Min Read
Robert Pether has been languishing in an Iraqi jail for three years.
Robert Pether has been languishing in an Iraqi jail for three years. Credit: Supplied

It’s been three years since Australian engineer Robert Pether saw his family.

In that time his eldest son Flynn, 17 when his father was imprisoned by the Iraqi government on dubious charges, has left his teen years behind him.

Oscar, 18, has become an adult.

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And Mr Pether has missed out on more than a quarter of his youngest daughter Nala’s 11 years of life.

The family is consumed by thoughts of whether they will ever see Mr Pether again.

“He’s one of the nicest people on the planet. And that’s what breaks my heart about how he’s being treated. The heinous treatment”, Mr Pether’s wife Desree said.

According to the Iraqi government, Mr Pether is a fraudster. They say he and his Egyptian colleague Khaled Saad Zaghloul were part of a plot by their employer, engineering firm CME, to rip the government off during a project to build its new central bank headquarters.

As today’s investigation by The Nightly shows, they are allegations that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Among the litany of problems with Mr Pether and Mr Zaghloul’s detention and conviction is that the translator assigned to him by the Iraqi government during his four-day interrogation was in fact an employee of the Central Bank of Iraq — the same outfit which was making the allegations against them.

Mr Pether says the confession statement presented to him by this translator, pre-written in Arabic, was mistranslated to him.

If he had known what he was confessing to, Mr Pether would have never signed the statement.

It’s revealing that the allegations against Mr Pether and Mr Zaghloul came as CME was preparing to pull out of Iraq, after months of contract disputes. And it’s unlikely to be a coincidence that the $18.3 million financial penalty levelled against the pair isn’t far off the $16.2 million plus interest figure the International Court of Arbitration ruled the Iraqi Central Bank owed the pair’s employer, CME.

It’s clear Mr Pether and Mr Zaghloul are collateral damage in a dispute in which they are only minor players, and have done no wrong.

There is a path to freedom for the pair.

Presidential pardons are a feature of the Iraqi legal system, and have been previously granted in cases involving financial penalties such as those against Mr Pether and Mr Zaghoul.

Sources from the office of former Iraqi prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who was in office at the time of Mr Pether’s sentencing, said the only thing preventing a pardon was a lack of political will.

That could be changed, with direct intervention from either Prime Minister Anthony Albanese or a high ranking minister.

Iraqi sources say that would give the current regime an opportunity to show its magnanimity, and that it is capable of engaging and building bridges with western nations.

That would right a terrible wrong, and give an innocent man his freedom, and three children their father back.

Responsibility for the editorial comment is taken by The Nightly Editor-in-Chief Anthony De Ceglie.

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