Park Hill South grad free after 'unjust' imprisonment in UAE

A 2003 Park Hill South High School graduate returned to Egypt last week, freed after what United States authorities considered a wrongful imprisonment that lasted more than 10 days.

Matt Novak informed his family in mid-March that he had been arrested while traveling to the United Arab Emirates. His passport had been stolen in 2010, and an identity thief apparently used his information to take out $90,000 in fraudulent loans in the small Middle Eastern country.

A dedicated traveler, Novak has spent time teaching overseas. He worked in Abu Dhabi, UAE from 2009 to 2012 before taking a teaching job in Thailand and later Cairo.

“Matt is very much a humanitarian who only wants to make a positive difference in the lives of the young children he teaches,” Carolyn Novak, Matt’s mother, said.

Novak lost his US passport in Abu Dhabi, the Emirati capital, in 2010 and reported it missing to the US Embassy and local police there before receiving a replacement, according to reports. He was stopped at the Abu Dhabi International Airport on a layover while traveling from Thailand to Egypt in March when he was arrested.

Days worth of work finally resulted in his release last week.

According to a news release, Novak was not in the country when the loans were taken out, but UAE prosecutors failed to recognize that he was likely a victim of identity theft. The family spent about $35,000 to assure his release.

“I’m incredibly relieved, as I know many in the community are, that Matthew’s nightmare is over and he’s able to return to the invaluable work he’s doing as a teacher,” U.S. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said. “We cannot tolerate the unjust imprisonment of any American abroad, and I’m disappointed that Matthew was ever put in this position in the first place. Fraud and identify theft are international problems as well as domestic ones. 

“We need to have better international consultation and information sharing to prevent these crimes and protect Americans.”

Various sites were setup online to assist the family with finances in addition to providing updates, which show that Novak was released around Thursday, March 31. He’s now back in Egypt.

Novak was a four-year all-state violinist in Missouri while in high school at Park Hill South. He also earned all-state honors as a part of two relays on the Panthers’ swimming and diving team, reaching the consolation final in two more relays and four individual events during his final two seasons.