Emirates says arrest of Asim Ghafoor, an American citizen, was coordinated with the US to ‘combat transnational crimes’.
The United Arab Emirates has sentenced an American citizen and the former lawyer of Jamal Khashoggi — the dissident Saudi journalist who was killed at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018 — to three years in prison on charges of money laundering and tax evasion.
The lawyer, U.S. citizen Asim Ghafoor, was also ordered to pay a fine of $816,748 stemming from his in absentia conviction, the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency reported late Saturday, adding that he would be deported after completing his sentence.
Ghafoor’s lawyer dismissed the charges as “absolutely not accurate at all.”
“I’m just hoping for a fair trial. I hope there’s no political motivation here,” his U.S.-based lawyer Faisal Gill said. “He had never heard anything about these charges and all of a sudden he’s put in jail.”
The UAE framed Ghafoor’s arrest as a coordinated move with the U.S. to “combat transnational crimes.” Emirati state-run media said American authorities had requested the UAE’s help with an investigation into Ghafoor’s alleged tax evasion and suspicious money transfers in the Emirates.
Gill cast doubt on that claim, saying, “If the U.S. had anything against him, why wouldn’t they just deal with it in the U.S.?”
The autocratic Gulf Arab sheikhdom announced the prison sentence a day after Washington-based human rights watchdog Democracy for the Arab World Now, DAWN, raised alarm about its board member’s arrest from Dubai International Airport.
Ghafoor had no knowledge of any case against him and had transited through Dubai without incident less than a year ago, DAWN said.
The sentencing came the day after US President Joe Biden left the region and returned to Washington.
DAWN said that Ghafoor, a close friend of Khashoggi who previously represented him and his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, was in transit to Istanbul on Thursday to attend a wedding when plainclothes Emirati security agents scooped him up and sent him to an Abu Dhabi detention facility before he could change planes.
Biden was criticized for greeting Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a fist bump, despite a CIA report presented to Biden that found that the crown prince had ordered the hit on Khashoggi, in which Saudi operatives killed the journalist and dismembered his body.
Biden told journalists he had raised the Khashoggi case “at the top” of his meeting with the crown prince, adding that he’d made clear “what I thought of it at the time and what I think of it now.” An official familiar with the matter said that bin Salman retorted by raising the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
Khashoggi was murdered after entering the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city on 2 October 2018 in what a United Nations report called an “extrajudicial killing for which Saudi Arabia is responsible
Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard found there was credible evidence warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials, including Mohammed bin Salman. The CIA has also concluded that the crown prince was responsible for.
Saudi authorities have denied the crown prince was aware of the plot, or its botched cover-up, and had suggested instead that Assiri and Qahtani were responsible.
Khashoggi, a Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist, was a prominent critic of Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi government.