- Associated Press - Monday, March 21, 2016

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - The former managing director of British football club Leeds United was acquitted Monday of a cybercrime charge over a tweet sent on his behalf while he was held in a Dubai prison, his lawyer said.

David Haigh will remain imprisoned for a few more days while Dubai prosecutors decide whether to appeal the court’s decision, lawyer Michel Chalhoub said. Chalhoub said he was hopeful Haigh - who has been imprisoned on fraud charges since May 2014 - would be freed soon, though the ongoing financial case between him and Dubai-based GFH Capital will go on.

“Of course, he will be in good spirits as that’s the end of the tunnel,” the lawyer said.

Ian Monk, a spokesman for Haigh, welcomed the acquittal.

“David now hopes to be reunited with his family in the U.K. for Easter,” Monk said in a statement. “He will have more to say then.”

A spokeswoman for Bahrain-based GFH Financial Group, whose wholly-owned Dubai subsidiary still has a 25-percent stake in the second-tier football club, did not immediately return a call for comment. Haigh had been a deputy chief executive at GFH Capital.

The decision is the latest in the long legal tangle between Haigh and GFH, with both accusing the other side of financial mismanagement. Haigh was convicted of fraud in August 2015, over a year after his arrest.

Just before Haigh’s scheduled release, his supporters say the case was filed alleging he had committed “cyber slander” through a tweet about GFH sent on his behalf, keeping him imprisoned.

Haigh has maintained his innocence.

The United Arab Emirates, though liberal compared to other Gulf countries, has stiff penalties under its cybercrimes law, which criminalizes publishing photographs online without a subject’s permission or writing messages with the intent to defame or offend. Human rights activists have criticized the law as being overly broad.

“David Haigh’s acquittal is a positive step and shows that the UAE’s courts are standing up to absurd invocations of its cybercrime law, but many more will remain at risk of similar treatment unless repressive provisions of this law is repealed,” Nicholas McGeehan, Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Leeds won the English top-flight title in 1992 and reached the Champions League semifinals in 2001 before falling into financial difficulties. Italian Massimo Cellino owns a 75-percent stake in the club.


Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap .

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