Doctor arrested during transit in United Arab Emirates is cleared of any wrongdoing

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 22 March 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1945
  1. Sophie Arie
  1. 1London

A retired South African doctor has warned other medical professionals of the risks of working in the United Arab Emirates after he was arrested in transit and forced to stay in the country for more than seven months before finally being cleared of murdering one of his patients.

“It is a dangerous country for expatriates,” Cyril Karabus, 77, told the BMJ after he was acquitted on 21 March. Not only has his ordeal been extremely trying personally, but he has also incurred “major” expenses. Anyone considering working there should be careful to be very well insured, he warned.

The retired paediatric haematologist is still waiting for “paperwork” to be completed before he can leave the country.

Karabus was arrested last August as he travelled through Abu Dhabi airport and was told that he had been convicted in his absence for causing the death of a 3 year old girl he treated while a locum in the country in 2002.1 He had been sentenced to three and a half years in jail and ordered to pay a fine of around $100 000 (£62 000; €77 000) to the child’s family. He denied the charges and said that neither the UAE authorities nor Interhealth Canada, the Canadian company that hired him for the locum work, had told him about the case at the time.

During an initial period in jail, Karabus, who has a pacemaker, was brought to court in leg irons. He was then released on bail, but a new court case was repeatedly postponed because the prosecution failed to present documentary evidence against him.2 It emerged that the original documents in the patient’s medical file on which the allegations were based had gone missing.

After more than seven months, and after a diplomatic offensive by the South African government and appeals from the World Medical Association and others, a committee of nine doctors assessed the case, using photocopies of most of the medical file, and cleared the professor of any wrongdoing.

On 21 March a court then used the committee’s findings to acquit him.

Hundreds of medical professionals travel to the United Arab Emirates for lucrative locum work, but Karabus’s case has raised concerns over the potential risk of patients’ families seeking so called “blood money” when relatives die in a foreign doctor’s care.

Interhealth Canada’s legal counsel, John Hyland, told the BMJ that it had ceased to operate in the hospital where Karabus had worked soon after his locum work ended and had not been aware of the conviction until the professor was arrested last August.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1945