Sunday, August 16, 2009

Should bail have been granted?

Winnipeg doctor flees over sex charges
Mike McIntyre and Gabrielle Giroday, Winnipeg Free Press
Published: Sunday, August 16, 2009

WINNIPEG -- Police and justice officials are investigating whether powerful family connections that extend to Austria might have allowed a Winnipeg doctor to escape prosecution on serious sex charges by fleeing Canada after surrendering his passport.

Walid Abdelhamid, 29, is wanted on two Canada-wide warrants after vanishing while free on bail. The case has triggered a complex, international probe and prompted widespread criticism of the legal system for allowing Abdelhamid out of custody, despite Crown warnings he would flee.

Abdelhamid was arrested on June 16 and charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy on two occasions. The victim was a Children's Hospital patient who was immobilized and on morphine he'd been given for pain relief at the time of the alleged attacks, which occurred 90 minutes apart.

Sources said Friday Abdelhamid, born Walid Abdelhamid Menesi, is now believed to be in Vienna, where his Libyan father is a wealthy, high-ranking government official. That has led to speculation Abdelhamid might have found access to a diplomatic passport, despite the fact his own travel documents had been seized by the courts.

Abdelhamid was in Canada on a training visa. He spent two years in Ottawa before going to Winnipeg in 2007 to study medicine at the University of Manitoba.

Police are also trying to find his brother, Wisam Menesi, who recently wrapped up his own medical studies in Winnipeg and is believed to be in the process of moving to New Brunswick.

"The police want to find him, to talk to him about what he might know about his brother's disappearance," a source said Friday. "They are especially interested in having a look at his passport."

Police also plan to speak with two other brothers in Ontario. Wail Menesi is currently studying civil engineering at the University of Waterloo, while Wasim Menesi is taking electrical engineering at the University of Guelph. Neither men returned email messages from the Free Press on Friday.

Police are also reviewing all outgoing flights from Winnipeg over the past few weeks to determine whether Abdelhamid was a passenger and, if so, how he managed to board the plane. His vanishing act is especially frustrating for investigators, who predicted Abdelhamid would try to leave Canada. The Free Press has learned police actually phoned WestJet and Air Canada in late June, telling them to keep their eyes open for Abdelhamid.

After his arrest, the Crown fought hard to keep Abdelhamid behind bars, saying he would likely flee Canada and never return to face justice if released. They noted he had made at least four recent trips to visit his family in Austria.

However, Provincial Court Judge Patti Umpherville agreed to release Abdelhamid. She ordered him to pay a $5,000 bond, turn over his passport and follow several other conditions, including a curfew and having no contact with any children under the age of 16

Abdelhamid filed a motion on July 15, seeking to amend his bail by returning his passport so he could make a trip to Vienna. He also asked to have his curfew removed and delete a condition that required him to stay away from all medical facilities or clinics, playgrounds, school areas and public swimming areas. Abdelhamid claimed his father had agreed to post a $25,000 cash bail to ensure he followed his bail order.

A Queen's Bench judge agreed to relax the curfew but rejected his other requests during a July 20 hearing.

The first warrant for Abdelhamid's arrest was issued on July 29 when he failed to show up for bail supervision. A second warrant was issued when he failed to appear in court Aug. 11.

The Free Press has learned Abdelhamid cancelled his apartment lease and car insurance last month, which indicate he might have planned on leaving the city. Abdelhamid's lawyers told court this week they have lost all contact with him.


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