After being detained on and off in Dubai since December 2015, Quebec geologist André Gauthier has finally returned to Canada.
"I'm feeling very relieved, very well and very happy to be with my family," Gauthier said Tuesday morning. "And also very happy to retake the course of normal life."
Originally from the Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean region, Gauthier was a whistleblower who alerted authorities in the United Arab Emirates to irregular dealings in a gold-trading company, Gold AE.
But instead of being thanked for his efforts, he was arrested, charged and convicted with committing 73 counts in the very fraud he uncovered.
After his arrest, Gauthier spent nearly 16 months in detention in Dubai from December 2015 to April 2017.
"The conditions were very basic," said Gauthier. "Though we did manage to negotiate with the direction to buy some books."
He later attempted to escape and return to Canada but was stopped in Oman before he could board his flight and was detained there before being extradited back to the UAE.
"There was only one period where I really was down … and that was when I was recaptured in Oman," said Gauthier.
In 2019, two Dubai court-appointed experts who analyzed the facts in the case exonerated Gauthier.
However, due to a a technicality, Gauthier was only cleared of 11 counts of the total 73.
"The court decided anyway to charge me with this and to go ahead with the condemnation so that's why I was a little scared and that's why I wrote to my son and my wife and my daughter, on a piece of paper, that they better forget me," said Gauthier.
"Because certainly I'm innocent, certainly I will get out of this one day, but I could not ask them to wait anymore for me or even to have hope."
Still, the family did not give up hope. They continued to lobby the Canadian government on his behalf.
His son, Alexis, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2019, appealing for help.
In June of 2020, after years of detention and legal battles, Gauthier was finally ordered released.
However, he had to remain in the country to face civil charges related to the same affair. This explains why his return to Canada was delayed another 10 months.
Cleared of all charges
Radha Stirling, Gauthier's laywer, said her client has now been cleared of all charges in connection with the fraud case.
Stirling told CBC that the real culprits responsible for the multimillion-dollar fraud fled Dubai before they could be caught and used her client as a scapegoat.
She said that Gauthier didn't even have access to the bank accounts that would have allowed him to commit the crimes he was accused of.
Stirling said it was thanks to the intervention of Global Affairs Canada that Gauthier's release was secured.
After years away, Gauthier, now 68, finally returned to Canada last week. He arrived in Toronto May 5 and is completing the mandatory quarantine for travellers in his home.
Gauthier says he is grateful to be back and is looking at this quarantine period as a sort of honeymoon with his wife.
"I am actually in honeymoon with my wife at home because my wife decided to confine," said Gauthier. "I've been seeing, through the window, my son and my grandson who I don't know."
He hopes to be able to make up for lost time with his family once his quarantine is over.
"Soon, I will be able to have [my family] in my arms," he said.
While he was detained, his father and father-in-law both died and he missed their funerals. He hopes to go pay his respects once he gets out.