The family of American businessman Zack Shahin, wrongfully detained in the United Arab Emirates for the last 15 years, are making a last-ditch plea to officials in Washington for his release.
Shahin, 58, has been hospitalized for nearly four months to treat complications from rotting flesh on his body.
A recent analysis of his health records prompted a US doctor to say Shahin could die ‘within weeks’ and has pushed his family’s campaign to free him to new frantic heights.
Earlier this week Shahin’s sister-in-law, Aida Dagher, and Shahin’s wife, Soha Shahin, told DailyMail.com they went to the UAE Consulate in Houston, TX after receiving no response by phone and email. The Consul General told them he was unable the accept the letter, telling them that Shahin’s case did not technically fall under his ‘responsibilities’ at the consulate.
The new mercy letter written from the entire Shahin family – Shahin’s 85-year-old –mother Samia Shahin; wife Soha, 54; son Ramy, 30; daughter Meera, 25, Shahin’s sister Roula Shahin and brother Hicham Shahin- share their compelling and urgent request to release their loved one.
This eleventh hour letter will be delivered by Dagher alone, traveling from her home in Houston to Washington.
‘My sister can no longer cope. She has been crying every day for 15 years … totally broken mentally and psychologically,’ Dagher said.
Zack Shahin, 58, is serving a 53-year-prison sentence on charges of fraud, embezzlement and other financial crimes. His heartbroken family insists he is innocent and being illegally detained for crimes that are false and politically motivated
The new mercy letter that Aida Dagher is hand delivering to the UAE Embassy in Washington on Friday. The letter seen here is written in Arabic
Dagher said she spoke to Shahin from his hospital bed on Wednesday and said that ‘he was in a bad state.’
‘It breaks my heart every-time I hear his voice. He was hardly able to speak,’ she said. ‘His health is worsening. He is filled with liquids. It was in his abdomen a few days ago and now it is near his heart. It is so frightening.’
A portion of the emotional letter reads: ‘We appeal to you also on behalf of a sick man still at Rashid hospital for almost the last 3 months during which he had several surgeries that resulted in serious complications that in spite of the medical care he has been receiving might be further aggravated,’
‘This family is terrified of losing Zack even without a final goodbye. Nothing was left for us to do but appeal to your Highness for a special pardon to have him released and sent back to the USA to continue with the medical treatment with the love and support of his family around hoping this will help alleviate his pain.
‘We appeal to your Highness for forgiveness as God is forgiving. Your Highness.’
The heartbroken family has hit numerous roadblocks in their quest to get aid for their loved one and had to do much of the work on their own.
‘We asked the state department for his medical report three months ago and they said it was a long process but we managed to get the report,’ Dagher said.
The report they were able to obtain was reviewed by Houston-based cardiologist Dr. Sanford Lubetkin, who revealed shocking details about Shahin’s deteriorating health.
The doctor said two recent surgeries had resulted in complications, including an infection that has spread to his lungs. Continual bleeding is threatening Shahin’s kidneys. He also developed a hernia and is also suffering from thyroid, gastro and prostate illnesses along with a multitude of neurological issues.
Lubetkin sent a letter to US Secretary Antony Blinken telling the State Department that if Shahin is not returned to get care at an American hospital he will likely die in a few weeks.
The letter also stated that Shahin needs spinal surgery on multiple vertebrae ‘as a result of his living conditions – which he was told not to have done in the UAE due to its ‘archaic techniques’.
‘This patient has disease in multiple organ systems, and his long-term prognosis is dire. His overall health conditions are unacceptable at best. Mr. Shahin needs to be closely monitored and managed to avoid sudden organ failure,’ Lubetkin wrote.
‘I urge you to take whatever action is necessary and appropriate to facilitate a compassionate medical release so that Zack can return to Houston.’
Dagher said Shahin was first admitted to Rashid hospital on October 16, 2022. She said he was discharged three days later and brought back to the Al-Awir Central Prison where he has been held for more than a decade.
On October 21, 2022, he went back to the ER, and after receiving treatment was released from the hospital five days later and taken back to prison. She said on October 28, 2022, he was rushed back to the ER where he has been since.
‘He told me, ‘I am going to stay in prison I rather die,’ Dagher said.
She also revealed that if by some miracle he survives and he is sent back to prison, he may do something drastic, and go on a hunger strike, but this time, she said he would do it with no water.
Dagher said other hunger strikes he has gone on was in May of 2012 for 50 days and in June 2021 for 22 days.
A policeman enters Dubai’s Al-Awir central prison in the United Arab Emirates, on May 21, 2020. This is the prison (pictured) where Shahin is being held, according to his family
Zack Shahin pictured with his two children has been in a Dubai prison for 15 years. His son Ramy told Fox News ‘they completely abandoned us … they completely pushed us to the side.’ ‘Maybe we’re not newsworthy enough for them — we’re not famous, we’re just an ordinary family — and they just left us’
Zack Shahin, 58, is serving a 53-year-sentence at Al-Awir prison in Dubai, after being illegally detained for crimes that are false and politically motivated, the family say.
Massive coronary disease, an infection in his lungs, rotting flesh and skin sores from a deadly pseudomonas infection he contracted via unsterile operating equipment are some of the diseases he is trying to fight.
His children – Ramy, 30 and Meera, 26 – told DailyMail.com said their father is ‘rotting from the inside out’ and if the State Department does not intervene they will lose him.
‘He is broken without much hope, and on one seems to care,’ said Ramy, who was only 15 years old when his dad was jailed.
He said he speaks to his father at least once a day and that it is so painful to hear him suffer so much. ‘I just want to try and help my dad to get the care he needs otherwise he will die.’
Three mercy letters were sent on December 6, 2022, by Shahin’s family – written by Ramy, his grandma Samia Chahine (his father’s mother) and Diane Foley, president and founder of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation.
Foley’s son, James, was an American journalist kidnapped and later beheaded by members of the Islamic State in Syria in 2014.
The letters had first been sent on November 21, 2022, but the family was asked to translate them to Arabic and then revise them several more times, Ramy said.
The family has so far been bitterly disappointed by the State Department’s response to their pleas for help.
The Shahin family shared the email response they received. ‘Good Afternoon Ramy, Thank you for sending this information. We are not medical experts but it is always helpful to have a more complete picture of your father’s current health status,’ a state department official said.
‘We continue to work on your father’s case and I will be sure to circle back when I have substantive updates to share.’
Ramy told DailyMail.com. ‘They gave me the same dry, nonchalant response I have gotten in the last three- and-a-half years,’ he said. ‘The sense of urgency in me is through the roof. I speak to my dad and is he is hollow and empty.’
‘He is in a government hospital rotting from the inside out. He needs to come home and spend whatever amount of days he has left with his family.
‘I am frustrated and upset with President Biden and the State Department and Secretary Blinken. There is lack of action and no sense of urgency to just help us out. I am calling on them to do more for my dad and bring him home. It’s time.’
While this back and forth was ongoing, the Shahin’s were unaware the US had been negotiating the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner – who was freed from a Russian prison December 8, 2022 after the US agreed to return international arms dealer, Viktor Bout through a trade the UAE helped facilitate.
‘When I submitted the mercy pleas on December 8 the State Department said that they will follow up so I thought there may be some communication with the UAE and the US but then we found out Brittney Griner was released.’
He said he feels the State Department has abandoned his family and pushed them aside. ‘Maybe we’re not newsworthy enough for them — we’re not famous, we’re just an ordinary family — and they just left us,’ he said.
Son: Ramy Shahin has been fighting for his father’s release. He was only 15 years-old when his father was imprisoned. ‘He is broken without much hope, and on one seems to care. I just want to try and help my dad to get the care he needs otherwise he will die’
Wife/Mother: Soha Shahin, 54, (pictured) and Zack Shahin married in 1991. She shared how devastated it has been without her husband as she raises their two children alone. ‘My husband is dying. I am without my life partner and the love of my life,’ she said. ‘Please, I am begging the American government to help bring my husband home. He is an innocent man, and is in detrimental health conditions without the proper care’
Daughter: Meera Shahin (pictured) almost 26, was 10-years-old when her dad was taken away from her. She has spent nearly half her life without her father
Sister-in-law: Aida Dagher (pictured) makes a desperate plea for her brother-in-laws release traveling from her home in Houston to Washington on Friday to the UAE Embassy
Mercy letter from Samia Chahine, Ramy’s grandmother and Zack Shahin’s mother
Ramy’s heartfelt mercy letter to the State Department. He writes, in part, ‘my dad died long ago in prison. The sick old man left in his place, now rotting in your cells, is but a shadow of him.’ He said the sentence his father was given has ‘destroyed our entire family’
Diane Foley, Founder/President of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation wrote ‘Zack Shahin has already paid for any financial crimes with his 15-year-imprisonment. He now stands on the verge of paying with his life…. in short, we humbly ask for your mercy in releasing Zack Shahin to be reunited with his long-suffering family’
A policeman entering Dubai’s Al-Awir central prison in the United Arab Emirates, on May 21, 2020. This is the prison (pictured) where Shahin is being held, according to his family
The building of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Washington, DC seen in this photo
The UAE Consulate General in Houston seen here is where Dagher and her sister, Soha Shahin went to on Monday where they met the Consul General who told them he was unable the accept the letter due telling them that Shahin’s case did not technically fall under his ‘responsibilities’ at the consulate
Meera Shahin, now almost 26, was only ten-years-old when her dad was ripped from their family. She told DailyMail.com she has always been a daddy’s girl and has been waiting for years to see her father.
‘Every milestone in life I’ve turned to see if my dad could possibly be home. From middle school graduation, to high school graduation with missing a father daughter dance for the seniors, graduating college, and then graduating with my master’s from NYU. What next?,’ she said.
‘I’m getting married this year and dream of having my father walk me down the aisle. However, I fear that with his current illnesses and his dire condition, he may not even make it to see that, even if he comes home,’ she said.
‘I am begging our government to do something urgently so we can get my dad the proper care he needs to be together again, alive and not in a body bag.’
Their mother, Soha Shahin, 54, who married their father in 1991 shared how devastated it has been without her husband as she raised their two children alone.
‘My husband is dying. I am without my life partner and the love of my life,’ Soha said.
‘Please, I am begging the American government to help bring my husband home. He is an innocent man, and is in detrimental health conditions without the proper care.’
Senator Ted Cruz, who has been in touch with the Shahin family, the State Department and the UAE advocating for Mr. Shahin’s release, issued a statement to DailyMail.com last week.
‘It’s well past time for Zack Shahin to come home and be reunited with his family. I’ve seen the reports about his health and hospitalization, and the undeniable fact is that he is getting worse not better,’ Cruz said.
‘This issue is no longer about alleged wrongdoings but basic humanitarian compassion. The Emirates are close and valuable allies, and Americans are watching closely to make sure they do the right thing.’
A State Department spokesperson issued the following statement to DailyMail.com last week.
‘We have no greater priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas. We take seriously our commitment to assist U.S. citizens abroad and are providing all appropriate assistance.’
‘We last communicated with Mr. Shahin on January 18, and we remain in regular communication with his family. We will continue to monitor Mr. Shahin’s case and health closely and provide all appropriate consular assistance.
‘We have and will continue to engage with UAE authorities to ensure that Mr. Shahin receives fair treatment and appropriate medical care. We have conveyed multiple requests on behalf of his family requesting Mr. Shahin’s release on health grounds.’
‘Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment at this time.’
Brittney Griner was released on December 8, 2022 from a Russian prison after the US reached a prisoner swap deal returning international arms dealer Viktor Bout. After President Biden gave final approval, the swap took place in the UAE
James W. Foley was an American journalist and the first American citizen killed by ISIS. He was murdered by decapitation August 2014
Diane Foley, the mother of James Foley, an American journalist who was kidnapped and later beheaded by members of the Islamic State in Syria in 2014, speaks to reporters outside of the Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse after the announcement of the guilty verdict for Islamic State member El Shafee Elsheikh April 14, 2022 in Alexandria, Virginia
Martin Lonergan, a British activist who met Shahin while he was in prison, told Fox News it as a ‘dungeon’ a place that is ‘where you are pushed away to be forgotten about.’
‘He is rotting, Longeran said. ‘If you can imagine a man is dying because he’s rotting … they’re cutting bits of Zack away, and he’s dying trying to fight the infection.’
He added: ‘I have never in my life witnessed such injustice.’
Shahin, a Lebanese-born married father of two, had joined PepsiCo as an executive in 1989 and traveled to Dubai in 1992 as a merchandising manager for the company.
In 2004, he was recruited by the country’s minister of finance and chairman of the Dubai Islamic Bank, Deyaar Mohammed Khalfan bin Kharbashi.
Under his father’s leadership – 2004 to 2008- he said the $5 million private firm became a $1.5 billion publicly traded company, and the second-largest publicly traded real estate company on the Dubai Stock Exchange.
But, when power shifted in Dubai, Shahin’s success became a liability.
In late 2007, Mohammed Ibrahim Al Shaibani, a political ally of the new regime and leader of a competing real estate firm, sought to recruit Shahin, who instead chose to remain with Deyaar.
Ramy said after his father resigned from the bank in early March 2008, the family traveled to America for two weeks with plans to move to Houston so that he and his sister could go to university in America.
But when they returned to the Middle East, he said his father had a meeting where he was taken prisoner by state security and charged with fraud, embezzlement and other financial crimes, which the family maintain, he never committed.
Ramy said a mob of six men – he described as CIDs -cops in disguise – busted into their house late at night and ransacked the property.
‘My father still had his suit on and was shackled from his ankles to his hands,’ he said. ‘My dad never did anything wrong in his life. They treated him like a serial killer.’
He said he after he left their home that night, he and his family didn’t know where he was for 17 days until the consulate located him in Bar Dubai prison.
At one point, he said his father was out on bail and fled to Yemen in fear of his life. He said the US consulate intervened and his father was granted a passport and ticket to America.
‘My dad called me and said he was waiting for his flight,’ Ramy recalled. ‘Then state security stormed into the airport, took my father at gunpoint and put him on a flight right back to Dubai.’
His family said he was detained for 13 months before formal charges were filed against him. He was released on bail, then spent the next nine years in jail before he was finally convicted in 2017. He was sentenced to 49 years in prison, which didn’t include time served.
The family said the big four global accountancy firms audited Deyaar for the years Shahin was CEO and found no financial losses or evidence of the crimes he was accused.
‘My dad’s mind is tortured, and it’s slowly destroying my mum and sister,’ Ramy said.
‘We aren’t sure how much longer he can survive physically, and his rapidly deteriorating mental health has been diagnosed, although the UAE still doesn’t recognize mental health issues.’
Ramy told DailyMail.com that two human rights barristers based in the UK – Rhys Davies and Ben Keith – have been actively involved in trying to secure his father’s release on a pro-bono basis for the past year, and are very committed and dedicated to his father’s cause.
‘Mr. Martin Lonergan, a British activist is also a key driver in all that we do on a daily basis and takes a lead role in this entire campaign,’ he said.
‘He has walked roughly 2000 miles from Houston, TX to Washington, DC to deliver a petition to the White House on behalf of my father.’
Detained International, a British organization that provides pro bono legal services to prisoners, said Shahin is the longest-serving American white-collar prisoner overseas.
In July, when President Biden supported an existing hostage recovery law, the family became a bit more hopeful.
The law directs US agencies to communicate more with families of Americans unlawfully detained overseas and allow for their captors to face sanctions.
But, their request for advocacy for their loved one under the law, the Levinson Act, was denied within five days.
‘I think the Biden administration and the State Department should look at our case and treat it with a little more respect,’ Ramy said. ‘Because we haven’t even been given any of that.’
Human Rights Watch, Detained International and the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation are some of the human rights organizations that have been trying to raise awareness of the inhumane and appalling conditions of Shahin’s imprisonment.
But, the groups claim they have gotten no response from the US government.
Dagher said that her family is completely consumed by their loved one’s state and deteriorating health and are praying that their plea for his release will finally be granted.
‘It is terrible what is happening. He is a good man. Fifteen years. Oh my god,’ Dagher said. ‘Day and night…we are obsessed and waiting for some glimpse of light …from anywhere.’