Convicted spy Matthew Hedges confesses to collecting sensitive information about UAE
Abu Dhabi - Hedges will be allowed to go home once the formalities of the pardon are completed.
Mathew Hedges, the British citizen who was convicted of spying in the UAE, has been pardoned by the President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, 'with immediate effect' ahead of the country's National Day.
Hedges will be allowed to go home once the formalities of the pardon are completed, a government spokesperson announced on Monday.
The 31-year-old British PhD student was sentenced to life imprisonment last week by the Federal Court of Appeal in the UAE for espionage against the UAE.
"In response to a letter from the family of Mr Hedges requesting clemency - and in consideration of the historical relationship and close ties between the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom - His Highness decided to include Matthew Hedges among the 785 prisoners released," Jaber Al Lamki from the National Media Council (NMC) said by reading out a statement on behalf of the government.
A video footage of Hedges confessing to be a captain for MI6, the British intelligence service, was also shown to journalists. "But I am approaching them as Mathew Hedges PhD," Hedges could be heard telling the investigators in the footage.
Reading out the statement, Lamki said the Briton confessed that he had collected sensitive and classified information about the UAE for that agency.
"He was here to steal the UAE's sensitive national security secrets for his paymasters.
"The evidence, both documentary and electronic, is irrefutable."
Lamki went on to add that Hedges's objectives were to gather classified information on the UAE's military capabilities, economic data on the country's key firms and key industries and information about key government figures and about the UAE's military and political role in Yemen.
"In any country, these would be considered serious threats to national security, just as they were here in the UAE," he said.
According to the spokesperson, investigators have found that Hedges had been using two different identities to gather information from targets. "In one, he was Matthew Hedges, the PhD researcher. In another, he was Matthew Hedges, the businessman. He was part-time PhD researcher, part-time businessman, but primarily he was 100 per cent a full-time secret service operative."
Rubbishing reports on the Western media that the Briton was not given access to his lawyers and family members, Lamki said throughout this process, "Hedges was accorded his full rights as a defendant, as per the UAE law".
"Mr Hedges made and received 27 phone calls to immediate family members during the pre-trial stage. In addition to this, he was provided with full medical care, which included twice-weekly checkups by a doctor. These are the rights given to prisoners throughout the UAE."
The spokesperson confirmed that a defence lawyer and a translator were assigned to Hedges at the government's expense as per the UAE law.
"The trial was held behind closed doors due to the sensitivity of the evidence presented. But the defendant's family and embassy staff were present at all hearings," added Lamki.
UK welcomes 'fantastic news'
Mathew Hedges's arrest and conviction had hogged the headlines world over and the British government had expressed their deep concern. Welcoming the news of his pardon, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said they are grateful.
"Fantastic news about Matthew Hedges. Although we didn't agree with charges, we are grateful to UAE government for resolving issue speedily."
Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said: "His Highness the President's gracious clemency in the customary National Day pardons allows us to return our focus to the underlying fundamental strength of the UAE-UK bi-lateral relationship and its importance to the international community.
"It was always a UAE hope that this matter would be resolved through the common channels of our longstanding partnership. This was a straightforward matter that became unnecessarily complex despite the UAE's best efforts."
Daniela Tejada, Hedges' wife, welcomed the news and said she "cannot wait to have Matt back home."