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The New Arab

Amnesty for Indian businessman jailed during Oman corruption scandal

Galfar helped build large parts of Muscat [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 June, 2016

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Jailed Oman-based businessman P. Mohammad Ali has been freed during a Ramadan amnesty, after serving two of his three year sentence for allegedly handing out cash to win government projects.

An Indian businessman jailed in Oman following a massive corruption scandal has been freed according to local media reports.

P. Mohammad Ali was the founder and former managing director of Galfar, one of the Gulf region's biggest construction companies.

The wealth it accumulated during Oman's construction boom made him one of the sultanate's richest expatriates.

But the construction tycoon was jailed for three years and given a $1.6 million fine after being found guilty of corruption, related to a contract with a state-owned oil and gas company.

A government official told Gulf News that the Indian businessman was freed on Tuesday - the first day of Ramadan in Oman - two years into his sentence.

A royal pardon was issued by Sultan Qaboos bin Said reports suggest to release Ali. 

The businessman attracts both respect and loathing in Oman. He has won the sympathy of many Indian expatriates for his generous philanthropy efforts in education both in Oman and at home in Kerala, India.

Many felt it unfair that the Indian businessman was given the same sentence as an Omani executive who unlike Ali pocketed cash during the under-the-table deal.

The scandal related to corruption during a construction contract Galfar won with a state-owned oil company.

Jumaa al-Hinai, the former head of Petroleum Development Oman's tender board, was given a three year sentence for his role in the graft scandal.

Police reportedly found $2.3 million in cash at Hinai's home, which he was allegedly given for signing a huge construction project with Galfar.

Ali maintained his innocence throughout the trial, and others said that bribes - described by sympathisers as "commissions" - are the only way for bidders to win big construction projects in Oman.

Days before the pair and a middleman were sentenced, Oman signed up to the UN's Convention against Corruption, leaving just North Korea, Chad, Somalia, Equatorial Guinea, South Sudan and Eritrea as non-signatories to the anti-graft law.

Tackling corruption was one of the main demands of protesters during a wave of rare demonstrations and riots that erupted in Oman in 2011.

Unrest in the sultanate that erupted during the Arab Spring alarmed the Gulf state's leadership who promised to clampdown on corruption.

The scandal-ridden ministry of national economy was closed down in 2011 while there was a wholesale sacking of unpopular ministers by the sultan.

In 2014, a former commerce minister was jailed on charges of corruption, while a special court was set up last year to tackle graft.

In 2016, Oman was named the GCC's most corrupt country according to Transparency International. But in 60th place it was still well ahead of war-torn countries in the region with oil-rich Libya and Iraq both tied at 161 place out of 169.

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