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Published: Sunday February 16, 2014 MYT 9:00:53 PM
Updated: Sunday February 16, 2014 MYT 9:01:39 PM

Ex-government officials in Oman jailed for abuse of office

DUBAI (Reuters) - A court in Oman sentenced two ex-government officials on Sunday to three years in jail for abuse of office, local media reported, one of a series of trials that began last year to curb corruption in the Gulf Arab state.

Oman's Sultan Qaboos has been pursuing an anti-graft campaign to defuse public discontent. Corruption was one of the reasons for mass protests in several Omani cities in 2011, as it was for uprisings around the Arab world that year.

The privately-owned al-Shabiba newspaper said one of the convicted officials had been the undersecretary at the housing ministry and the other the secretary general at the Supreme Committee for Town Planning, since replaced with a new body.

The prosecution accused them of using their offices to issue title deeds for lands in the southern coastal state of Duqm that had been confiscated in 2006 for public use. The project is a major part of the Muscat government's effort to develop the desert country's industrial base.

Al-Shabiba said 21 other people linked to the case were sentenced to a year in jail each. All 23 defendants were fined 100 rials (155.22 pounds) each and the related title deeds were revoked.

They were all expected to appeal against their convictions, chief public prosecutor Badr al-Seba'i said. The court set a bail of 1,000 rials in case of an appeal, the Arabic-language daily reported.

The defendants denied the charges when the trials started last year.

"We are pleased with the verdict," said al-Seba'i, adding that the main aim was to return lands to the state and resume development plans in Duqm.

Another Omani daily, al-Zaman, said the defendants included the governor of Duqm state and one of his aides. They were among the group that received one-year jail terms.

More than 20 Omani government officials and private sector executives have gone on trial on charges of offering or accepting bribes in exchange for contracts, mostly in infrastructure projects.

Earlier this month, Oman's National Gas Co SAOG confirmed a report that its chief executive had been detained by the public prosecutor over suspected bribery.

National Gas Co bottles and markets liquefied petroleum gas which it buys in bulk from Omani refineries. It also provides engineering services.

(Reporting by Fatma al-Arimi; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Mark Heinrich)

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