After languishing in and out of Dubai prison cells for six years, André Gauthier received a call from Canadian consular officials that he’d been waiting for since 2015. He was going home.
Sitting in a Dubai hotel on the afternoon of May 4, the 68-year-old Quebecer was given specific instructions.
Get a PCR test. Make sure the results come back within 12 hours. Get a paper copy of the results. Get a ticket on Emirates flight 241 from the United Arab Emirates to Toronto.
And most importantly, keep it secret.
“Don’t talk to anyone, even your family, don’t talk to your son,” Gauthier recalled them saying. “Just get your gear and be ready for tomorrow morning.”
Last Wednesday, he finally made his way back to Canada.
“I still can’t believe it’s true,” his son, Alexis Gauthier, told Global News.
“Everybody’s pretty happy.”
André Gauthier, a Quebecer from the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region, was working for mining company Gold AE in 2015 when $30 million allegedly went missing.
Shortly after, the company’s senior management disappeared. Gauthier was named CEO and was accused of embezzling the money. He was charged with 73 counts related to a $30 million fraud.
Gauthier’s family denied the accusations, describing him as a whistleblower wrongfully framed for fraud and imprisoned after alerting Emirati authorities to the alleged irregular dealings.
After spending 18 months in prison in December 2015, Gauthier was released, only to later be convicted on fraud-related charges and sentenced to eight years in prison.
He tried to appeal his sentence. However, losing faith in the judicial process, André and another man of Iranian-British descent decided it was time to escape.
“Myself being Canadian and knowing that the Canadian authorities were scared to send me to Iran, because if I go to Iran, then things could be worse than Dubai,” he said. “So it’s better.”
Gauthier tried to make his way back to Canada through Oman, but was arrested at the behest of Emirati authorities. After what André claimed was a “totally unfair trial,” he was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
“They returned me to Dubai, where I first spent three months of the sentence on escaping the country and then starting to purge my forty five year sentence into central jail,” he said.
Recalling his time in prison, Gauthier said: “jail is jail. And there (are) no good conditions in jail.”
André said he was among 75 others in a block designed to hold 50 people.
“There (are) no beds, you sleep on the floor. There is no phone. The food, you eat all in the same plate with your hands. There (are) no instruments,” he said.
To make matters worse, Gauthier said the COVID-19 pandemic hit the prison hard. Rather than helping inmates who were sick, Gauthier claimed guards were “eliminating the sick people,” even those who “just had a cough.”
“People were even afraid to get a cough or catch a cold,” he said.
According to Gauthier, many sick inmates were isolated and quarantined, and then simply disappeared.
After sitting in an immigration prison cell in Oman for 68 days in 2019, Gauthier said he had run out of money to pay his lawyers and had lost all hope he would ever go free. He sent a message to his wife, son and daughter asking them to forget about him and move on with their lives.
“I was telling them that maybe I would never come back,” he said.
“At their age, (they were) better to forget their father, because it’s game is over.”
Facing 45 years in prison, Gauthier’s family pressured the Canadian government to intervene.
Last June, Gauthier was granted a presidential pardon on all criminal charges. However, he still couldn’t leave because of parallel civil charges — until May 4, when officials were able to have the charges dismissed and negotiated his release.
Alexis credited all three Canadian foreign affairs ministers who worked on the file over the last two years to bring his father home.
“Chrystia Freeland and then Mr. Champagne and now Mr. Garneau… they kept following the process pretty closely, doing everything they could,” he said.
But according to Alexis, bringing his father home “is just Step 1.”
“Step 2 is to catch those lovely guys that are responsible for all of that.”
Much has happened since Gauthier was detained. Alexis said his father has two grandchildren he’s never met, adding that André Gauthier’s father had died. Now that Gauthier is home, Alexis said it was important to him that he meet his daughter, who is three-and-a-half years old.
“At a certain point she was like ‘there was no difference between (grandpa) and Santa Claus,” Alexis said.
“I just wanted her to see him for real just so that she understands this is actually a real person. This is not just somebody with TV or in a book.”
Gauthier spent three days in a quarantine hotel after arriving in Canada on Wednesday, and is now isolating at home in Levis, Que., with his wife.
“I just wish to have my granddaughter, grandson in my hands,” he said, although he admitted he has since seen his wife.
“But to know that I’m here, I can tell you, I feel relaxed.”