Gold AE - Investigation into one of the biggest frauds of this decade
Canadian whistleblower faces extradition for exposing UAE financial scandal
A little over a month ago, in the middle of the night, Alexis Gauthier received a message from his father:
“Tell your mother and your sister that I love them. Thank you very much for your help. This is where it ends for me. I do not have the strength to fight anymore…I'd rather die than go back to jail in Dubai.”
André Gauthier, a 65 year old Canadian citizen from Quebec, has indeed been fighting for a long time. He had been one of the first shareholders of UAE gold brokerage firm, Gold AE, to suspect financial foul play by the management, and had eventually been tasked with investigating what emerged as one of the biggest scams in UAE history. Now, André was despondently messaging his son from a Muscat prison, facing extradition to the UAE, wrongfully charged for the very fraud he had been instrumental in exposing.
André had been in the gold business for decades, primarily in South America, Asia and Africa; evaluating mines and advising mining companies on development strategies. Through long time contacts in Peru, Andre had become involved with Gold AE in 2013. It was an exciting and promising project back then, with royal backing and a license to operate within the Dubai International Financial Centre; Andre saw great potential for expansion and became a minority shareholder. He all but ceased his other professional endeavours to focus on the burgeoning new company. With his sterling reputation and vast international connections, Andre brought investors from around the world to Gold AE, believing that there were great opportunities for lucrative returns. It was a dream project.
It was not long, however, before Andre began to notice telltale signs of managerial impropriety. The majority shareholder refused to let Andre review the company accounts, and would always become evasive when Andre asked pointed questions about finances. He became suspicious, and undertook his own investigation into the company’s books. In appearance, everything seemed normal, but digging a little deeper, he realised that his doubts were justified. At first glance, Gold AE seemed prosperous because management used very complicated techniques to distort real accounting data. But, in reality, the cash outflows were significantly larger than the money invested by the clients. Nearly $30,000,000 was missing, and the company had been in a state of insolvency for quite some time.
To put it simply, money being invested by clients to buy gold was instead being used by executives for their personal use, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.
Andre alerted Gold AE Chairman, Sheikh Sultan bin Sultan Khalifa al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family; and expressed his concern. The sheikh ordered a shareholder meeting to address the issue, but before it was ever adjourned, the executive managers and majority shareholders fled the country. Left with the devastating aftermath of a colossal fraud, Sheikh Sultan appointed Andre and another man to recover as much of the stolen money as possible and minimise the damage. Andre filed a police complaint against the former executives, and set about rectifying the harm that had been done.
Meanwhile, the former owner and managing director personally contacted Gold AE clients, to deflect from his own guilt, inciting them to file complaints against the new management of the company; so that Sheikh Sultan, Andre, and others would be held accountable for his fraud. Over 100 complaints were filed, Gold AE was suspended from trading, and eventually, Andre himself was arrested.
Alexis recalls, “Everyone advised my father to leave the UAE to avoid being arrested for someone else’s crimes; but he felt a responsibility to the investors and other shareholders to try to fix what had happened. He didn’t want to just leave it like that. But in December 2015, they detained him without charge and kept him over a year. By the time he was finally let go, they retained his passport to keep him in the UAE. After years of fighting this, my father could see he had no chance of a fair hearing in that country, so he made his way to Oman.”
Once in Oman, Andre arranged for emergency travel documents that would allow him to fly home finally to Canada, but he was apprehended at the airport and taken into custody to face extradition proceedings that will see him returned to the UAE.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, who represents Andre, comments, “Andre Gauthier was the man who discovered the fraud being perpetrated by the management of Gold AE, without him, Gold AE’s clients would have continued to be scammed, and tens of millions of dollars more would have been defrauded. The UAE government knows who was responsible for this crime, and they know who was responsible for exposing it. Rather than seeking the extradition of the perpetrator, they are seeking the extradition of the man who uncovered the wrongdoing and tried to rectify it. Andre has already endured wrongful detention for over a year in the UAE, and if he is sent back, he will likely face an extended jail term that would amount to a life sentence at his advanced age. Oman should not even consider this request, and the Canadian government should urgently intervene to prevent this injustice. Human rights abuses are rampant in the UAE; Andre’s safety would be at tremendous risk in Emirates’ custody. He suffers from high blood pressure, and would undoubtedly be denied access to medical care. Canada would not entertain an extradition request from a documented human rights violator like the UAE, England refuses to extradite to the UAE on the grounds of human rights abuse; and Oman should refuse as well.
“Not only is Andre innocent, he is a victim and was instrumental in exposing the crime. The Gold AE scam was one of the biggest financial scandals in UAE history, and if Andre is sent back to take the fall for it, it will be one of the biggest miscarriages of justice the country has ever committed.”
Richard Martel, MP from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and Associate Shadow Minister of National Defence states, “Mr. Gauthier is from my riding. I have been in constant contact with the family since they have informed us of the case. It is terrible what they are going through. We have worked closely with Minister Freeland’s office so they can act quickly. The current situation is totally unacceptable and Mr. Gauthier needs to be brought back to Canada without further delays. It has already been far too long.”