US disputes UAE account that it sought detention of Jamal Khashoggi lawyer

US disputes UAE account that it sought detention of Jamal Khashoggi lawyer
The US State Department has rebuked accounts from the UAE that it sought the detention of Asim Ghafoor, a US citizen and former lawyer for slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
2 min read
The lawyer was sentenced by the UAE to three years in prison on charges of money laundering and tax evasion [source: Getty]

The US on Monday said it had not sought the arrest of the former lawyer of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, contradicting the United Arab Emirates' official explanation for the American citizen's detention.

The UAE on Saturday sentenced the civil rights lawyer, US citizen Asim Ghafoor, to three years in prison followed by deportation on charges of money laundering and tax evasion.

Ghafoor has rejected the charges and said he had no idea he had been convicted on the charges at some point in the past, in absentia.

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Policemen arrested him from Dubai airport on Thursday as he was transiting to Istanbul for a wedding and took him to an Abu Dhabi detention center.

The UAE portrayed Ghafoor’s arrest as a coordinated move with the US to "combat transnational crimes", saying American authorities had requested Emirati help with an investigation into Ghafoor’s alleged tax evasion and suspicious money transfers in the autocratic country.

But the US disputed that account, with the State Department saying it has "not sought the arrest of Mr. Ghafoor" and referring further questions to the Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ghafoor sits on the board of Washington-based human rights watchdog Democracy for the Arab World Now and was a close friend of Khashoggi, the dissident writer and Washington Post columnist dismembered by Saudi agents in Istanbul in 2018. He represented Khashoggi as well as his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.

The State Department said it had raised Ghafoor's detention "at senior levels with Emirati authorities" and provided consular support, with American officials seeing Ghafoor most recently on Sunday.

"We have conveyed our expectation that Mr. Ghafoor’s rights to a fair and public hearing and to fair trial guarantees be fully respected and that he be treated humanely," the statement added.