U.S. businessman jailed in Dubai appears in court

Sep 06, 2012, 11:05 AM EDT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An American businessman accused of financial crimes in Dubai appeared before a court Thursday after being caught fleeing the country, but it is not clear how he will be defended.

The resurfacing of Zack Shahin after his attempt to return to the United States via Yemen is the latest development in a four year legal saga that has sparked a rare public dispute between Washington and the United Arab Emirates, which it counts as a key Arab ally.

Shahin spoke briefly to a member of his U.S.-based legal team, James Jatras, at the court hearing. Jatras described his client as looking tired and thinner than he has appeared previously, but added that Shahin "indicated that he was ok."

Jatras is in Dubai on a temporary visit and is not certified to defend Shahin before Emirati courts. He said that Shahin's local attorney did not show up at the hearing, and it is unclear if he is still representing Shahin.

Shahin asked the court for an extension of his case to give him more time to arrange a defense during the short procedural hearing, Jatras said. That request was granted, and the trial was adjourned until Oct. 4.

The Emirati lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Shahin was detained in 2008 as part of a probe into alleged embezzlement by executives at Deyaar Development, one of several Dubai-based property developers that rose to prominence during the emirate's building boom last decade. He spent four years behind bars without trial.

He has denied wrongdoing over the allegations of financial impropriety.

The 52-year-old Shahin launched a hunger strike earlier this year to draw attention to his detention, and American officials took an unusually public role in advocating for him as his health deteriorated.

Shahin was released on $1.4 million bail in July. He later fled the country and was detained last month in Yemen. He was flown back to Dubai last week.

He now faces an additional charge of illegally leaving the country, according to Essam al-Humaidan, Dubai's attorney general. Al-Humaidan said the court has approved his request to cancel Shahin's bail.

The seven-state UAE federation, which includes the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is a major OPEC oil producer. It maintains strong economic ties with the U.S. and hosts important American air bases and other strategic sites.

The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi had no immediate comment Thursday.