Businessman escapes Qatar

Summary

Philippe Bogaert, the Flemish businessman held “hostage” in Qatar for more than a year, is back home after escaping by boat under cover of darkness.  

The campaign poster for Bogaert's freedom
 
The campaign poster for Bogaert's freedom

Home again after daring boat trip

Philippe Bogaert, the Flemish businessman held “hostage” in Qatar for more than a year, is back home after escaping by boat under cover of darkness.  

Bogaert went to Qatar in October of last year to work for the local subsidiary of a Belgian company, Dialogic, to develop media coverage of the Qatar Marine Festival. Although employed as a media specialist, he took over as CEO of the subsidiary when the existing CEO was sacked. When the Qatari partners pulled out of the contract, Dialogic Qatar became bankrupt, and Bogaert resigned. Under Qatari law, he was only allowed to leave the country if a release form was signed by his sponsor, a former business partner. He refused, leaving Bogaert without a job, without an income, and with no way to leave. When his apartment lease ran out, he was given shelter in the Belgian Embassy and made some money playing piano in hotels.

In the meantime, Bogaert was sued for €3.2 million in damages following the bankruptcy of the company, sentenced to three years in prison for writing bad cheques, and finally sued for €10m for defamation. Last week, he was reluctant to reveal details of his escape, in case he exposed those who helped him to reprisals or legal action. He stressed that his flight was not a sign of guilt. “I had the choice,” he said. “I could escape, or I could wait for an unfair trial. I might have waited until my whole life had gone by.” The escape took about four months to plan. Two of Bogaert’s friends flew from Belgium to Mumbai and chartered a yacht which they sailed to Qatar. Bogaert was taken on board, and the three travelled back to Mumbai over a period of three weeks, with little food or water and a constant fear of being pursued and brought back to Qatar. They even constructed an emergency hiding place in case customs should investigate the boat. The voyage was a catalogue of disasters: the engine gave out; the GPS stopped functioning for a time; and half of the 200 litres of fresh water taken on board in Qatar leaked away. During this time, messages kept appearing on Bogaert’s Twitter page, which he used to communicate with the outside world, giving the appearance that he was still in Qatar. The last message is dated 19 September. It reads: “Looking forward to celebrate Eid with my Qatari friends (yes, I still have some). Back for more on Tuesday.” In fact, his boat docked in Mumbai on Tuesday, and the three men took the first flight to Europe. But Bogaert’s troubles weren’t over yet. “I’d flopped down in my seat on the plane and was feeling great. Ten minutes later as we still stood on the tarmac, some security people came on board and made directly for me. I thought that was it. I had to get off and point out my luggage. It seems they were looking for something suspicious. But then they let me go back to my seat. That feeling I had as we took off – simply fantastic, really.” Though the lawsuits against him are still active, Bogaert will only have to appear in court is if he goes back voluntarily, as Belgium does not have an extradition treaty with Qatar and, in any case, does not extradite its nationals. “Would I go back to Qatar? Maybe in another life,” Bogaert said. “I had to wait for a year in Qatar, let them wait for me now.”

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Businessman escapes Qatar

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