Family of British businessman, 66, who has untreated tuberculosis in Dubai jail where ‘body of prisoner who died of Covid lay in cell next door for eight hours’ accuse UK of ‘doing nothing’ to ensure his welfare

  • EXCLUSIVE: Ryan Cornelius, 66, has been jailed in Dubai for more than 12 years
  • Father-of-three jailed for his part in illegally obtaining £372m loan from a bank
  • He was originally handed a 10-year jail term, but this was extended by 20 years 
  • Businessman diagnosed with tuberculosis last year and hasn’t yet been treated
  • His wife, Heather, 61, is appealing for his clemency but says that ‘no one cares’

The family of a British businessman who has untreated tuberculosis in a Dubai prison where the ‘body of a prisoner who died of Covid lay in the cell next door to his for eight hours’ have accused Dominic Raab of ‘doing nothing’ to ensure his welfare.

Ryan Cornelius, 66, from London, was handed a 10-year sentence for his part in illegally obtaining a £372million ($501m) loan from Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB) to build a lavish real estate project known as The Plantation.

The property developer was detained in 2008 alongside his business partner, Charles Ridley, and the pair were convicted of fraud in 2011 over the loan, which was ruled to have been obtained through paying bribes to the bank’s employees.

But ahead of his release, an additional 20 years was added to the father-of-three’s jail term under Law 37, which enables a creditor to keep a debtor in prison if their loan has not been fully repaid.

Mr Cornelius contracted TB from his proximity to an infected prisoner at Dubai Central Prison last December and has received no medical treatment nearly one year later, according to his family. 

Ryan Cornelius (pictured with his family around a year before he was arrested), now 66, contracted TB last December and has been left untreated nearly a year later, say his family 

The father-of-three’s family now (from left to right: Josh, Heather, Tasha and Anton). Mr Cornelius was jailed in 2008 and convicted of fraud in 2011

He also has high blood pressure and cholesterol, leaving him highly at risk from Covid-19, which is said to have ‘run rampant’ throughout the prison during the first wave of the pandemic.

Mr Cornelius’ wife, Heather, is living with her daughter after the bank seized the businessman’s assets, including his home in London.

She told MailOnline: ‘It has been hard not to despair. My husband is being kept from his family by powerful men with a financial interest in ensuring that he never leaves prison.  

‘It became harder still when he contracted TB and Covid-19 began to circulate.  

‘But it’s hardest of all when I have to break it to him that no one in the British government cares.’

Mr Cornelius’ brother-in-law, Chris Pagett, has claimed a prisoner in the cell next to Mr Cornelius died of coronavirus, with his body being left there for eight hours before being removed.

Referring to the first wave of the pandemic, the 68-year-old said: ‘No soap is provided for prisoners to wash their hands. 

‘In one instance, the body of a prisoner who died of Covid-19 in the cell next to Ryan’s was left in his bed for eight hours before being removed in a plastic bin bag.’ 

Heather, who speaks to her husband Ryan once a day over the phone, sent an open letter seen by the MailOnline to the Foreign Secretary in June this year, which received no response.

The 61-year-old wrote: ‘My husband, Ryan Cornelius, has just completed twelve years in Dubai Central Prison, where Covid-19 is spreading unchecked.

‘His jailers tell him that he will never be released. He is being kept there by the Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB) using a law enacted after his imprisonment. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office hasn’t lifted a finger to help him.’

Heather sent an open letter to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (pictured above, walking along Downing Street on December 2) in June this year, which received no response

Dubai Central Prison, where Mr Cornelius has been jailed for over 12 years. His brother-in-law, Chris Pagett, said Covid-19 ‘ran rampant’ at the prison during the first wave of the pandemic

She went on to explain that, at 66, her husband’s immune system is already weakened by TB, saying: ‘My husband is unlikely to be alive at the end of his sentence. I think DIB know this.’

Heather concluded: ‘I have never asked FCO to intervene in a Dubai legal process. I have simply asked you to support a plea of clemency from me to the Ruler of Dubai. Your officials have consistently refused.

‘My husband has surely suffered enough. I have made pleas of my own to the Ruler, but received no reply. He would listen to one which came with your support.’

Heather also appealed twice to Foreign Office minister James Cleverly to intercede with the UAE authorities since Mr Cornelius contracted TB and Covid-19 began to circulate in the prison, but received no response.

Mr Cornelius also has high blood pressure and high LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, leaving him highly at risk from Covid-19

Mr Ridley, Ryan’s ex-business partner, lodged a claim for an injunction at London’s Commercial Court in December 2018, contending that the bank effectively agreed in its original restructuring agreement not to take steps pursuant to Law 37. 

The case has gone to full trial and remains ongoing.

Mr Pagett said the businessman has been to hospital twice, but was unable to receive treatment as prison officers ‘did not provide the correct paperwork’.

The 68-year-old told MailOnline: ‘He’s had untreated tuberculosis during the pandemic and is highly at risk from Covid-19, which was rampant in the prison so has been a rather nervous experience.

‘In the meantime they do impose these rather brutal sort of lockdowns where prisoners are not allowed outside for weeks on end. All of that doesn’t do wonders for morale.’  

Heather added: ‘With these underlying deteriorations of his health, Covid is an even bigger risk and is a worry. 

‘We’ve informed the Foreign Office of this and all the anomalies along the way and constantly kept them updated, but we’ve never really had anything back from them or any kind of support or help. 

‘So it is devastating and it’s really difficult for Ryan as well. As a mother, my kids are now grown up, my youngest is 18, my eldest is 31, you’re trying to support them and keep giving them hope, but the last few years have been even more difficult. 

‘You think it’s going to get easier and it’s not, it just gets more and more difficult.’

Referring to their children, Tasha, Anton and Josh, Heather commented: ‘Even when we were in lockdown for when Josh had to leave school and stay with us, I was just grateful for time with as much of my family together as possible. 

Ryan and Heather pictured before he was jailed. She wrote in a letter to Mr Raab: ‘My husband is unlikely to be alive at the end of his sentence. I think DIB know this’

Ryan with his two sons Anton and Josh. Ahead of the property developer’s release, an additional 20 years was added to the father-of-three’s jail term under Law 37

‘I’m grateful that Tash will share a flat with me because it’s not what you expect is it. My older son as well supports me hugely. They’re fantastic and amazing, they’ve shown such strength in this. 

‘Both Ryan and I take a huge amount of pride in them and are grateful for the fact that they’ve grown up the way they have.’

Lord Clement-Jones, who has been supporting the family’s plea for clemency, described the additional 20-year sentence as ‘absolutely nauseating’.

The Liberal Democrat peer told MailOnline: ‘We’ve written to the ruler through the ambassador to try and get a clemency ruling. We’ve knocked on the door of every single minister I can think of.

‘I must have written three or four letters to James Cleverly, but we’re just caught in this absolute bind. 

‘They require a legal opinion from a lawyer in Dubai, but the trouble is once you start disrespecting the ruler or the regime in a place like the UAE and you’re a local lawyer, you’re going to find that the work dries up. So it’s a really difficult area.

‘Nobody seems to have taken any action of any kind. Government ministers have just been batting letters back saying they need more information and their officials are doing what they can, but the level of visiting has been pretty poor, in terms of the conditions of the jail and where Ryan is being held. 


Ryan’s children now, pictured. Lord Clement-Jones wrote to James Cleverly in June this year, labelling the ‘plight of Ryan and his family’ as a ‘matter of indifference’ to the Foreign Office

‘What is absolutely monstrous about this is that the bank are sitting on this incredibly valuable asset. It hasn’t been redeveloped yet, but Mr Pagett’s theory is they want to keep Ryan in jail without any fear of challenge.

‘I just think our Foreign Office seem to put obstacles in the path. They could easily have said “look how can we help, let’s get a clemency petition and so forth”, but they haven’t done that. It’s always down to Heather.’ 

Referring to the additional jail term, he added: ‘I think it is absolutely nauseating quite frankly, and it’s a civil action. This is not the state, this is at the request, it seems, of the bank. That’s what seems to be the case.’ 

Lord Clement-Jones wrote to Middle East and North Africa minister Mr Cleverly on June 18 this year, copying Mr Raab and Jeremy Hunt, labelling the ‘plight of Ryan Cornelius and his family’ as a ‘matter of indifference’ to the Foreign Office.

Ryan with his daughter Tasha. The family, from London, have appealed to the Foreign Secretary to support a plea of clemency

Mr Cleverly responded to the letter on 24 July, denying Mr Cornelius’ situation is a matter of indifference to the government department, saying: ‘We have and will continue to provide consular assistance to Mr Cornelius in line with FCO policy.’

He added: ‘With regards to Ryan’s treatment for tuberculosis, in my previous letter to you I confirmed that Ryan has had two hospital appointments scheduled but he was unable to attend. 

‘Officials in Dubai are speaking to the prison doctors again to request another appointment for Ryan. We will remain in contact with the prison authorities and raise any welfare concerns that Ryan may have.’

On why Mr Cornelius was said to be unable to attend his two appointments, Mr Pagnell claimed that prisoners are given short notice when told about leaving the premises, and the businessman was not in his cell both times prison officers came to collect him, so was not notified of or taken to either appointment.

Radha Stirling, a lawyer who founded Detained in Dubai, which states its aim is to assist foreign victims of injustice, told MailOnline: ‘We’ve had so many complaints about treatment and the medical situation in the prisons in Dubai but nobody has cared and the UK Government has just been turning a blind eye.’ 

She continued: ‘DIB is already in possession of assets valued at over a billion dollars, seized by means of the spurious criminal case against Ryan.

‘It is outrageous that they should be allowed to retroactively apply Law 37 and keep him imprisoned just so they can try to increase their profits by another $501million.  

Ryan’s family pictured in 2014. Referring to her children, Heather told MailOnline: ‘They’re fantastic and amazing, they’ve shown such strength in this’

‘Ryan has lost a decade of his life, and lost everything he built over the past 30 years, his family is homeless, and he is bankrupt; yet DIB wants him to remain in jail indefinitely, and in Dubai, they have the power to make that happen.’ 

A Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘We have provided support to a British man detained in the UAE, and will continue to do so.

‘We have been in close contact with the UAE authorities to ensure that the welfare of all British people in UAE prisons is met.’

The government department has also raised concerns over the potential spread of Covid-19 in UAE prisons with the UAE government, and staff are continuing to follow up with authorities in Dubai concerning Ryan’s welfare.

MailOnline has contacted Baker McKenzie, the law firm instructing DIB in London’s Commercial Court, who declined to comment, and has approached Mr Cleverly.

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