The United States has "significant concerns" about the case of an American businessman who has spent the past month on a hunger strike in the United Arab Emirates, where he has been imprisoned without trial for more than four years.
Zack Shahin, a Lebanese-born U.S. citizen, had been the CEO of a Dubai-based real estate firm prior to his arrest in 2008 on suspicion of embezzling $100,000. He is currently being held on $5 million bail.
"We have had significant concerns with the prosecution of Mr. Shahin," said Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Tuesday.
U.S. officials believe Mr. Shahin has received "unequal treatment" as measured against others accused of financial crimes in the UAE, he added.
Mr. Toner offered little direct response, however, to pleas from Mr. Shahin for the United States to intervene more aggressively on his behalf.
Lawyers for Mr. Shahin issued a statement Tuesday saying the purpose of his hunger strike has been to protest the "U.S. government's inaction" in publicly calling for the UAE to grant his "immediate and reasonable bail and hold a fair and open trial."
"Zack's health is rapidly deteriorating," the statement said. "Still, complete silence from Washington."
Mr. Toner said U.S. officials "remain very, very concerned about the health of Mr. Shahin" and are "working with prison officials to monitor his condition."
He asserted that U.S. officials have repeatedly raised concerns about the case to authorities in the UAE. On May 23, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs expressed concerns about the case to the UAE ambassador in Washington.
Mr. Toner noted that there are several outstanding cases against Mr. Shahin and that U.S. officials "want to see those consolidated, so that he's able to defend himself more effectively, and, we've also urged them to permit his release on bail."
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