Roscommon family of engineer sentenced to five years jail in Iraq say help of Irish government is their ‘last resort’

Robert Pether pictured in Ireland with his sons Oscar and Flynn

Gabija Gataveckaite

The family of an Irish-based engineer who has been sentenced to five years jail in Iraq and given a €10m fine has said that the help of the Irish government is their “last resort”.

Roscommon-based Robert Pether, who is an Australian citizen but lives in Ireland, was detained in April and has been found guilty of deception in a “kangaroo court” according to his wife Desree.

He now faces a hefty €10.2m fine and five years in prison after a contractual dispute in Iraq.

Ms Pether and her children, who are Irish citizens, took to Leinster House today to call for the Irish government to intervene and put pressure on the Iraqi government.

“He was working on the project for four years and then he was arrested on April 7 last year and he was imprisoned,” she said.

“There was a contract dispute between his employer and the Central Bank of Iraq, it had nothing to do with him and his colleague, they’re employees and they were used as leverage in a contract dispute,” Ms Pether claimed.

She said that he and his Egyptian colleague spent five months in prison before he got to see his lawyers two days before his court date.

“There’s nothing fair, nothing humane, nothing reasonable about it whatsoever.”

Mrs Pether said that Christmas time was “absolute hell” and that she has not seen her husband since January of 2021.

“We’re a very strong, tight knit family because we’ve done lots of travelling.

“Christmas was absolute hell and very hard on the kids, especially [daughter] Nala, her birthday last year in October when daddy wasn’t there for her and she was convinced he’d be home by then.

“It’s just really, really difficult,” she said.

Her husband took part in helping to design the central bank in Baghdad and was set to work on three other hospitals.

The family, who live in Elphin in Co Roscommon, have been engaging with Fianna Fáil Senator Eugene Murphy, who has raised the issue with the Taoiseach.

“We had a phone call with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and the Taoiseach has already asked to help as well, so things are moving along,” said Senator Murphy.

Mrs Pether said that the case of businessman Richard O’Halloran, who recently came home after being stuck in China for a number of years with a travel ban, gives the family hope.

The only communication she has with the husband is if he is able to ring her through the prison twice a week, ranging from three to 15 minutes in length.

The Irish embassy also visits him in prison once every two weeks.

“Robert is in such a different situation being in prison, we don’t have contact with him and I’ve only seen one photo of him.

“He’s aged so much, he’s completely white and he’s not well.”