If someone was given a 37 years prison sentence in Europe or the UK you’d expect them to be a violent criminal. This is not the case in Qatar as horrified British businessman Jonathan Nash has discovered.. He has been given essentially life imprisonment for nothing more than bounced cheques.
Jonathan Nash from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, is CEO of Top House in Qatar, he has 27 years of experience in the electronic security systems industry. Top House offers technical, commercial and management services to the local construction industry. As CEO of a company, it is normal practice to write cheques in advance, as assurance of payment in the future. The cheques signed by Jonathan assured millions of Qatari riyals to clients and suppliers. When the company blocked payment, Jonathan found himself personally liable and facing the rest of his life in prison.
His desperate family are publicising his plight in the hope that compassion and sensibility will overturn this cruel and unusual sentence.
Jonathan believes he is the victim of an internal power struggle at his company, Top House. And that he has been used as fall-guy for the covert liquidation of the company’s assets.
While he is held in jail, business partner David Bolger and their Qatari company sponsor, His Excellency Sheikh Saoud Thamer M. J. Al-Thani, are divvying up Jonathan’s stake in the business.
Nash says that a campaign of lies and rumours damaged his business reputation to such an extent that many of his suppliers and clients lost confidence in him and decided to hastily cash cheques Jonathan had written on behalf of the company, in a rush to get their money. But because of an internal disagreement at Top House, the funds were not available from their business accounts to cover the cheques. Now Jonathan is being held responsible.
Despite Jonathan having just completed negotiations with Mashreq bank for five million Qatari riyals which was to be available to cover any debts from 3 days after his arrest, the police have refused to listen to his explanations and plans to cover the cheques.
Regardless of the fact that he had taken measures to cover the cheques, Jonathan Nash was arrested and thrown in jail in March 2015, where he now faces life imprisonment.
The combination of the defamatory campaign against him and the Qatari court system are making it almost impossible for Jonathan to get out. While he is stuck in one of the harshest prisons in the world, Nash says that he has heard reports that Top House assets, including cars and office furniture are being sold off and that the funds have disappeared.
Jonathan in happier times
Distraught mother, Jennie Nash, is understandably beside herself with worry for her son. When she can, she speaks to him on the phone but the prison guards restrict calls and often don’t answer the telephone, so she can go weeks without word from her son.
She says, “This is every mother’s worst nightmare, we all think it will never happen to us….when it does it is a real shock. Jonathan’s detention and heavy prison sentence have left us all reeling, we feel so helpless and we are really concerned for his well-being and safety.”
Jonathan’s ex-wife, Bev says, “Life has been very hard for me and our two children. It has affected my health with stress and anxiety. Our children have been very brave during this period, especially our daughter. Sadly for both children they have lived several of their young years without the love and support of a father. “
His daughter Katie, 17, adds that, “my Dad has missed some important times in my life, for example my gcse years and results, my prom and other special times, I haven’t hugged my Dad in over 3 years - I miss my Dad so much, he has missed a massive part of my life by not being here with me. My Dad and I were so close, last time I saw him I was 13 years old, I’m now 17 years old. I just want him home as soon as possible.”
Radha Stirling, CEO and founder of Detained in Dubai who are providing legal support to Jonathan and his family said in a statement, "The shock felt by Jonathan and his family at the prospect of him spending 37 years in Qatar prison is immense.
“The practice of using blank cheques as assurance for millions of pounds of business debt immediately puts business people in jeopardy. Holding an individual personally responsible for such large amounts of corporate debt is not a standard the international business community follows, and certainly a 37 year prison sentence in such a case is beyond all norms.
“Business practice in the Qatar must be reformed to bring it in line with international standards. The cheque system used in the Qatar is antiquated and as many find to their cost, open to fraud even by those with good business reputations.
“In most countries, if someone is innocent they’d have a chance to prove it in court. But because this is Qatar, Jonathan has not been allowed to defend himself or present evidence in his own favour, as he would have been if he had been at home in the UK.”
Because of local practice in the Qatar, a defendant in cases like this is only ever asked three standard questions at the court hearings, to which they may only answer yes or no:
Did you issue this cheque?
Is this your signature?
Have you paid?
This is enough for the Qatar courts, no explanation or defence is allowed. On top of that Jonathan doesn’t get to see any of the evidence against him and has to this day, not seen the rulings of many of the court hearings.
In Qatar, like in many other Gulf countries, cheques are used as guarantees, they act as a kind of contract in everyday business-life. It is normal practice to both accept and demand assurance in the form of a cheque. So what Jonathan did, writing cheques on behalf of his business as deposits, guarantees and rentals is standard practice.
The nightmare has not stopped there. While he is in prison, more cheques are being presented, some are signed by Nash and are from his company Top House/SPCC, but others have been forged and Jonathan has no knowledge of them.
Radha Stirling continues: “Like many other businessmen in his position, Jonathon has not been allowed to respond to charges, has not been allowed to present a defence in court, and still remains unaware of many of the judgements against him; although quite literally, his life is at stake. The way this case has been pursued suggests that recovery of the debts is not even the aim, rather Jonathan is simply being sacrificed as a tactic for writing them off.”