Ben Keith and Rhys Davies represent Ryan Cornelius on a pro-bono basis. He is being held in a Dubai jail having served 15 years in prison already. The UN have determined his detention as arbitrary and has called for his release. 

The case has featured in the Daily Mail, with Rhys Davies commenting on the case below.

A British businessman who fears he will remain in a Dubai jail cell until the day he dies has written to King Charles begging him to intercede.

Ryan Cornelius has made the plea ahead of the King’s opening address at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 28, which takes place in the United Arab Emirates – which includes Dubai - this week.

A United Nations investigation has already ruled that his detention is arbitrary and called for his release.

Mr Cornelius, who has already served 15 years, is backed by a cross party group of MPs, including Conservative Iain Duncan Smith and Labour's Chris Bryant, and by justice campaigner Bill Browder. They have condemned his treatment as tantamount to a death sentence.

An early day motion calling for Mr Cornelius’s release earlier this year attracted support from all the main political parties.

The 68-year-old businessman, a father of three, was arrested in 2008 on a stop-over at Dubai airport and convicted of fraud in a case described as a miscarriage of justice by his supporters.

Even though he has served his sentence, Mr Cornelius has been told he must remain in jail until he repays his creditor – but he is unable to do so as the Dubai authorities have seized his assets.

In a letter to the King dictated from behind bars, Cornelius writes: ‘You are due to visit the UAE for the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference next month, when you will probably meet the Ruler.

‘He is someone who has long valued his relationship with your family, and I am sure he will listen to you.

‘With apologies once more for being so bold as to address you directly, may I ask you to intercede with the Ruler of Dubai to show clemency towards me and my family.’

Mr Cornelius’s lawyer, Rhys Davies, hopes that the King’s visit will give him the chance to urge Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum and his government to release Mr Cornelius and any British prisoners serving clearly disproportionate sentences.

"We have our King going to the UAE and opening this important event and yet we have British citizens who are languishing in prison mere miles away and that needs to come to an end,"

he said.

"The eyes of the world will be on the UAE."

Mr Cornelius wrote to the King a month ago. So far, his team has heard from neither the Palace nor the Foreign Office.

Mr Cornelius had been a property developer in the Middle East building an upmarket polo estate when he was unexpectedly arrested in 2008 by plain-clothes policemen on a stop-over at Dubai airport.

Ryan, wife Heather and their children

He was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison for fraud, accused of breaking the terms of a £372 million loan received from the Dubai Islamic Bank.

When he was due for release, the UAE authorities extended his sentence by 20 years behind closed doors with no trial.

Mr Cornelius did not have a lawyers present, was taken to a judge’s office with no notice and, say his supporters, blocked from making an appeal.

When his assets were seized by the Dubai authorities, his wife Heather and their three children were left without a home.

In his letter to the King, Mr Cornelius continues: ‘I will be 84 before I am eligible for release. But my captors tell me I will never be allowed out alive.

‘I do not know why they are doing this to me. They have already taken from me everything which I ever possessed, I am bankrupt and my family lives precariously in rented accommodation in the UK.

‘I am in poor health now and probably don’t have much longer to live.’

The conditions in Dubai Central Prison are notoriously bad and Mr Cornelius suffered tuberculosis with no medical treatment available to him for 18 months.

Mr Davies said:

"The conditions of imprisonment do not meet Western standards.

"These are conditions where medical treatment is not given, air conditioning is kept sufficiently low, they are kept in conditions of 12 degrees inside their prison cells which are overcrowded, they often have just one thin blanket and the lights are kept on 24/7.

"Any suggestion by the UAE that Ryan received a fair trial is plainly wrong. Ryan was subjected to a grossly unfair trial process.

"The UAE has breached basic international standards as well as its own constitution by imposing an illegal retroactive sentence. The United Nations has also determined that Ryan has been arbitrarily detained and has called for his immediate release."

Mrs Cornelius has spoken in the past about her fears that her husband will pass away in prison.

Speaking to MailOnline, she said: ‘I believe they are determined to keep my husband in jail until he dies.

‘I am terrified that he will pass away behind bars and that I will never get to see my husband again.’

The UAE Embassy did not respond when asked for comment but has previously said: 'Ryan Cornelius illegally obtained a loan of £372 million, by bribing staff members at Dubai Islamic Bank.

‘Following a fair trial in which all due processes were followed, Mr Cornelius was sentenced to ten years in prison, which was later lawfully extended as he had failed to repay the creditor (Dubai Islamic Bank) during this time - which is in line with UAE law.

'The whereabouts of the funds Mr Cornelius obtained are unknown.

‘The UAE judicial system is independent and equitable and guarantees the mandatory presence of a translator at all stages, the right to seek a lawyer at all stages, the provision of a lawyer at the state’s expense if the defendant cannot appoint legal counsel, and the right to appeal.

'In line with international standards, the UAE has stringent laws, regulations and procedures in place to ensure the physical and psychological wellbeing of detainees in its prisons.’

A spokesman for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: 'We are supporting a British man detained in the UAE and have consistently raised his case with the UAE authorities.'

Ben Keith is a leading barrister specialising in cross-border and international cases. He deals with all aspects of Extradition, Human Rights, Mutual Legal Assistance, Interpol, Financial crime and International Law including sanctions. He represents governments, political and military leaders, High Net Worth individuals, human rights defenders and business leaders in the most sensitive cases.

He has extensive experience of appellate proceedings before the Administrative and Divisional Courts, Civil and Criminal Divisions of the Court of Appeal as well as applications and appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and United Nations. Ben is recognised in Chambers and Partners and The Legal 500.