Qantas denies it blocked help for duo held in Dubai

Supporter … Malcolm Fraser.
Supporter … Malcolm Fraser.

Qantas has denied a claim by the former prime minister Malcolm Fraser that it tried to block attempts to save two Australians under house arrest in Dubai because it feared for its commercial relationship with its airline partner Emirates.

Mr Fraser blasted Qantas while welcoming the intervention of Prince Charles in the campaign to free Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee, executives who have been trapped in Dubai for four years on property fraud and bribery charges - even after an Australian judge cleared them in a separate case.

''I know Qantas has taken an interest in this,'' Mr Fraser told ABC radio on Tuesday, ''and Qantas has not wanted anything done that would disturb their relationship with Emirates.''

He condemned any intervention by Qantas, which is awaiting final regulatory approval for an alliance with Emirates, the Middle East's biggest airline, wholly owned by the Dubai government.

''Qantas would have been trying to get people to do nothing,'' he said. Asked if he knew that for a fact, he said, ''I believe so.''

In a two-point reply, Qantas said it did not involve itself in the legal affairs of Australians overseas. It added: ''Any suggestion that we have encouraged a lack of intervention in a case involving Australians in Dubai is completely inaccurate.''

Mr Fraser refused to elaborate, fearing his comments might undermine a possible breakthrough in the case this week. The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, this month phoned Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, to seek a review of the case. While he agreed to her request, a review had already been ordered by a Dubai judge, and a report could be delivered in court as early as this Thursday.

Justice Clyde Croft, in the Victorian Supreme Court, has dismissed allegations at the centre of the Dubai fraud case: that a Gold Coast-based developer, Sunland, was duped into paying about $14 million to secure a development plot on Dubai Waterfront, a subsidiary of the state-owned developer Nakheel. The judge attacked ''fabrications'' and unreliable evidence from Sunland, which is preparing an appeal.

Late on Tuesday, Sunland said it understood the Dubai government allegations in the bribery case included that about $7 million went to a bank account linked to Mr Joyce and about $7 million went to a company linked to another Australian, Angus Reed.

Mr Reed's firm, Prudentia, had claimed development rights over the plot of land, which the Dubai prosecutors say it never had.

Mr Joyce and Mr Reed attended Geelong Grammar. Prince Charles spent two terms at the school in 1966.

Sunland denied a report that its executives ignored a request to give evidence in Dubai. It insisted it had received no summons. Sunland has previously declared it is making no claims against Mr Joyce's colleague Marcus Lee.

Mr Fraser did not return calls but told the ABC regarding Qantas: ''I think it would be an absolute disgrace if any business deal stood against the natural right of any Australian and if that inhibited a government from acting with full strength and support [for] an Australian family.''

A spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, said the government was not aware of what Qantas had done, but the airline's actions would have no bearing on Australia's endeavours to assist the two men. While Mr Fraser said Senator Carr should fly to Dubai - just as he had travelled to Libya to help rescue the lawyer Melinda Taylor - the spokesman noted that the minister did in fact go to Dubai last July to discuss the case.

This story Qantas denies it blocked help for duo held in Dubai first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.