Slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s former lawyer Asim Ghafoor, who holds U.S. citizenship, was sentenced to three years in prison by a UAE court Saturday. The news comes two days after his detention by security agents at Dubai International Airport.
Interestingly, while the State Department said it was assisting Ghafoor and providing consular support, it was reportedly an American request for assistance that led to the probe by the UAE authorities.
American authorities had reached out to the UAE for help while looking into Ghafoor’s suspicious money transfers to the Middle Eastern country and alleged tax evasion. Ghafoor’s detainment and sentencing were carried out after Abu Dhabi probed his bank transactions, CNN reported.
The UAE Public Prosecution (PP) in Abu Dhabi found suspicion of a money laundering crime that occurred in the country. Ghafoor was arrested while waiting for a flight to Istanbul where he was to attend a family wedding.
Ghafoor was sentenced by the Abu Dhabi Money Laundering Court for “two crimes of tax evasion and money laundering related to a tax evasion operation in his country and sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of three million dirhams [$816,748], with deportation from the UAE,” Emirates News Agency WAM reported.
Khashoggi was a Washington Post contributing columnist who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. U.S. intelligence claims the group of agents that executed the hit job were acting under orders from Saudi crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis have called it a rogue operation.
Ghafoor “had no knowledge of any legal matter against him and no reason to believe he was involved in any legal dispute in the UAE,” read a press release issued Friday by the human rights organization Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).
The PP “praised the mutual coordination to combat transnational crimes with the United States, which led to the arrest of the accused, and his presentation to the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court in accordance with the legal procedures established in this regard.”
The State Department issued a statement on Ghafoor’s sentencing saying, they’re offering complete support to the lawyer and expectations of a fair and dignified trial have been put forth.
“We are aware of the arrest of U.S. citizen Asim Ghafoor in the UAE. We have raised his detention at senior levels with Emirati authorities and requested additional information. We are watching his case closely and providing appropriate consular support; consular officers from the U.S. Embassy visited him today,” a state department spokesperson said.
“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, as well as that U.S. rights to consular access be fully respected.” The UAE government did not respond to the CNN’s request for comment.