Canada: Saudi accused of sexual assault disappears before trial

Authorities fear Mohammed Zuraibi al-Zoabi, 28, may have left the country with help from the Saudi embassy.

    Mohammed Zuraibi al-Zoabi, 28, faces sexual assault and forcible confinement charges in Canada [Facebook]
    Mohammed Zuraibi al-Zoabi, 28, faces sexual assault and forcible confinement charges in Canada [Facebook]

    Canadian authorities are searching for a Saudi citizen accused of sexual assault after he failed to show up for a court hearing in the Canadian city of Sydney, Nova Scotia, the local Chronicle Herald newspaper said.

    Mohammed Zuraibi al-Zoabi, a student at Cape Breton University, faces charges of sexual assault, assault, forcible confinement, uttering threats, criminal harassment, dangerous driving and assault with a weapon (a vehicle) in separate trials related to two incidents that occurred in Sydney between 2016 and 2017.

    Local police told the Chronicle Herald that al-Zoabi's passport was given as collateral when the 28-year-old student posted his $37,500 bail in cash, a hefty sum provided by the Saudi Arabian embassy.

    "It should be impossible (for him to leave the country or enter without a passport) unless Saudi Arabia furnished him with a Saudi travel document," Lee Cohen, a Halifax-based immigration lawyer, told the Chronicle Herald.

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    "They have done this before."

    Asked by the paper whether he was still in Canada, al-Zoabi said "probably not … I can't tell you that", adding that he wouldn't come back for the trial because he feared they might be "unfair".

    "I can't respect that," he said of the warrant and charges. "Everybody's against me just because I'm a (racial expletive) and foreign student despite the fact that we boosted so much money to that island of Canada."

    The Saudi Arabian embassy did not respond to a Chronicle Herald request for comment on al-Zoabi.

    Jessica Hines, the manager of Kevin's Towing in Sydney, Cape Breton, described al-Zoabi as "rude, obnoxious and thought he was above women and the rules".

    "First time I met him consisted of him coming into my office and snapping his fingers because I didn't greet him quick enough as I was busy," Hines said.

    "I immediately marked my dominance by telling him, 'I don't jump for men when they snap their fingers at me', and made him sit and wait for near an hour."

    Between March 2012 and April 2016, al-Zoabi racked up 34 infractions ranging from speeding, driving uninsured, driving without a valid license, unregistered and uninspected vehicles. Unpaid to this day, the fines amount to $68,967.

    News of al-Zoabi's suspected escape will only serve to further exacerbate Canada's already poor relations with Saudi Arabia, which last year barred the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh after Ottawa criticised Saudi authorities for detaining female activists.

    Most recently, Canada agreed to grant asylum to a Saudi teenager fleeing abuse from her family. 

    Rahaf Alqunun, 18, was greeted by Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on Saturday, ending an ordeal that saw her stranded at Thailand's international airport for about a week. 

    'Brave new Canadian': Saudi teen Rahaf Alqunun arrives in Canada (2:17)

    Riyadh was already struggling to deal with the blowback from the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul late last year. 

    Turkish and Western intelligence officials have either hinted at or directly blamed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder but Saudi monarch King Salman left his son's portfolios unchanged in the latest reshuffle.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News