An American lawyer representing slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been sentenced to three years in prison in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after being detained at an airport amid President Joe Biden had a controversial trip to the Middle East.
Asim Ghafoor, a US citizen and Virginia-based civil rights attorney, has been found guilty of tax evasion and money laundering in connection with a tax evasion operation in the United States, UAE state media WAM reported on Thursday. Seven.
The Abu Dhabi Money Laundering Court sentenced him to three years in prison and a fine of three million dirhams ($816,748), then deported him from the UAE, two days after he was arrested at the Dubai airport.
State media said he was found guilty after US authorities contacted their UAE counterparts for judicial assistance in connection with the investigation of Mr Ghafoor for alleged tax evasion and suspicious remittances to the country. this Middle Eastern country.
The United States has not confirmed this version of events.The Independent contacted the US Department of State to verify this account.
The State Department confirmed it was aware of Mr Ghafoor’s detention in a statement on Saturday. It came as Mr. Biden held a meeting with UAE President Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to promote relations between the two nations.
“We are aware of the arrest of US citizen Asim Ghafoor in the UAE. We raised his detention to senior with Emirati authorities and asked for more information. We are closely monitoring his case and providing appropriate consular assistance; Consular officers from the US Embassy visited him today,” a State Department spokesman said.
“It is our hope that Mr Ghafoor’s right to a public and fair trial and to ensure a fair trial will be fully respected and that he be treated with humanity, as well as consular access. of the United States is fully respected.”
Earlier, US officials told reporters there was “no indication that it was related to the Khashoggi issue”.
Mr Ghafoor, who previously represented Mr. Khashoggi, was detained in Dubai on Thursday while arriving in Istanbul for a family wedding.
The human rights group, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), said he was being held in a detention center in Abu Dhabi on charges of being involved in a conviction in absentia for money laundering. Mr Ghafoor is said to have had no prior knowledge of any convictions.
The human rights group, of which Mr Ghafoor is a co-founder and a board member, called on Mr. Biden to raise the issue when he met the UAE president in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
It is unclear whether Mr Ghafoor’s detention was elevated during a friendly meeting between the two leaders. During the meeting, Mr. Biden officially invited his UAE counterpart, who took office in May, to visit the US this year.
“The challenges you face today just make it so much more important for us to spend time together,” Biden told him. “I want to officially invite you to the United States.”
The Independent has contacted the White House for comment.
The meeting came as Mr. Biden met with a number of Middle East leaders as part of a four-day trip to the region, including the man who is believed to have ordered the attack on Mr. Khashoggi.
On October 2, 2018, Mr. Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and outspoken critic of the Saudi government, was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
US intelligence agencies concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, better known as MBS, ordered his murder.
Mr. Biden met with MBS on Friday during his controversial trip, telling reporters he later confronted the crown prince about his role in the murder. MBS denied all responsibility and fired the president with American controversies.
Saudi officials later claimed they “did not hear” Biden tell the crown prince about Khashoggi’s death – comments the US President immediately said were untrue.
Mr. Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia and meet with MBS has been moot, especially since Mr. Biden announced during the 2020 White House campaign that he would make Saudi Arabia the become a “guardian”.
The president sparked further backlash when he greeted MBS with a friendly handshake at the start of their meeting on Friday.