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Wed Oct 22 14:13:48 SAST 2014

SA takes on UAE

PREGA GOVENDER and BIÉNNE HUISMAN | 30 December, 2012 09:14
DR CYRIL KARABUS

A Diplomatic row is simmering between South Africa and the United Arab Emirates after International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane informed her counterpart that Dr Cyril Karabus's detention in Abu Dhabi was illegal.

International relations spokesman Clayson Monyela said the minister had told her UAE counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, that, based on information from the doctor and his family, and given what the department knew, "the circumstances under which he was convicted are a matter the family and himself [are] contesting, so we believe that the detention, on that basis, is not legal".

Monyela said: "We thought we needed to raise it in strong terms because it's a matter that has really bothered us."

He said the department had gone beyond just offering consular services to the 77-year-old Cape Town paediatric haemotologist and oncologist. It had made several representations on his behalf to UAE authorities "given his age, his health status and also the circumstances under which he was convicted".

The emeritus professor from the University of Cape Town is on trial in Abu Dhabi for the death of a cancer patient a decade ago.

As the risk of a diplomatic falling out between the two countries continues to grow, the Sunday Times can reveal that:

  • A mining magnate based in London came to the doctor's aid by putting up the R250000 bail for his release from the Al Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi, and a Durban doctor donated R180000 towards his legal fees;
  • His legal counsel have been instructed to demand, when he appears in the Abu Dhabi Sharia Court on Wednesday, for the 13th time, that his case be struck from the roll and that he be released;
  • Deputy Minister of International Relations Marius Fransman will meet Karabus's Cape Town-based lawyer, Michael Bagraim, soon to brief him on the latest developments;
  • The South African Medical Association has called on South Africans working in the Middle East, and particularly in the UAE, to "reconsider"; and
  • Karabus is writing a book about the case.

The doctor has a pacemaker, and a stent in one of his coronary arteries. He has been in the UAE for the past four months after being charged with manslaughter and the forgery of an official document.

He was arrested at Dubai airport on August 17 while he and his family, who had attended his son Matthew's wedding in Canada, were en route home to South Africa. Karabus had no idea that he had been charged, let alone tried and convicted in absentia, in the UAE for the death of a patient in October 2002.

Sarah Adel Abdulla, 3, a Yemeni girl, died while Karabus was working as a locum at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre. She had been suffering from acute myeloid leukaemia. He was convicted and sentenced to an effective three-and-a-half-year jail term in absentia in 2004 for allegedly failing to give Sarah a blood transfusion and falsifying her medical record to make it appear as if he had.

Although his attorney managed to get the conviction and sentence overturned after his arrest in August because they were imposed in absentia, the charges were immediately reinstated by prosecutors.

Family, friends and former colleagues expected Karabus to be acquitted when he appeared in court on Christmas Day after he found vital information in Sarah's medical record, which confirmed that he had given her the transfusion. But the judge postponed the case to Wednesday after ordering the prosecution to bring the original medical records to court.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts are continuing.

Said Monyela: "We made those representations to the authorities at all levels and, all along, we have been told by them that they heard our case, they understand the reasons and the rationale and will get back to us once a decision has been made. We are still waiting for that decision."

He said the responses received suggested "they are quite sympathetic and understand the reasons why South Africa is raising the matter".

Retired Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Douglas Scott, a friend of Karabus, was among those who lobbied the department to intervene.

Bagraim, meanwhile, expressed doubts about whether the prosecution would be able to lay its hands on Sarah's original medical records.

"If the original file is not produced, we have instructed our advocate to demand that he be released because this is now a strong case of justice delayed being justice denied."

He said striking a case from the roll in Abu Dhabi could be done "in very rare circumstances".

"It's a travesty of justice. It's keeping the man a virtual prisoner in Abu Dhabi when everyone, including the judge, knows he's not guilty."

He confirmed that the legal costs were close to R2-million and that this had been collected through donations, mostly from Karabus's former colleagues as well as medical practitioners from as far afield as Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia.

He said that between 30 and 40 former patients had donated a total of R100000 towards Karabus's legal fees.

He said a frail-looking former nurse, who had worked with Karabus for more than 20 years at the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital in Cape Town, walked to his offices in the city centre to donate R30, because she did not want to spend any money on taxi fare.

"Three of my staff members started crying. It was incredibly moving," said Bagraim.

Karabus has been living in an apartment in Abu Dhabi with Dr Elwin Buchel, the former head of gastroenterology at the University of Pretoria, since being released on bail.

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