Dubai, United Arab Emirates – The United States said on Monday that it did not seek the arrest of the former lawyer for slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, contradicting the UAE’s official explanation for the US citizen’s detention.
The UAE on Saturday sentenced civil rights lawyer Asim Ghafoor to three years in prison for money laundering and tax evasion. Ghafoor has denied the charges, saying he was not aware that he had been convicted of the charges at some point in the past in absentia.
Policemen arrested him at Dubai airport on Thursday when he was on his way to Istanbul for a wedding and took him to a detention center in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE portrayed Ghafoor’s arrest as a coordinated move with the US to “combat international crimes”, saying US authorities are working to investigate Ghafoor’s alleged tax evasion and suspected money transfers in the autocratic country. Help was requested from Emirates.
But the US disputed that account, with the State Department saying it “has not sought Mr Ghafoor’s arrest” and referred further questions to the Justice Department.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ghafoor is on the board of the Washington-based human rights watchdog Democracy for the Arab World Now and was a close friend of Khashoggi, a dissident author and Washington Post columnist... .. He represented Khashoggi as well as his fiancé Hatice Cengiz.
The State Department said it had raised Ghafoor’s custody “with Emirati officials at a senior level” and provided consular support, the most recent sighting of Ghafoor by US officials on Sunday.
“We convey our expectation that Mr Ghafoor’s rights to a fair and public hearing and guaranteed fair trial will be fully respected and treated humanely,” the statement said.
President Biden on Friday held a highly controversial meeting with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The president initially slammed Prince Mohammed over human rights abuses, particularly the killing of Khashoggi.,
But Mr Biden decided he needed to mend the long-standing ties between the two countries to fuel rising gas prices and stability in the volatile region.