An American lawyer who represented murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been sentenced to three years in prison in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after being detained at an airport. Asim Ghafoor, a US citizen, and Virginia-based civil rights attorney, was convicted of tax evasion and money laundering related to a tax evasion operation in the US.
The Abu Dhabi Money Laundering Court also ordered that the lawyer, U.S. citizen Asim Ghafoor, pay a fine of $816,748 stemming from his in-absentia conviction, the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency reported late Saturday. The UAE’s state-linked newspaper, The National, said he would be deported to the U.S. after completing his sentence.
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.
The prison sentence was announced a day after the Washington-based human rights watchdog Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn) raised the alarm about the arrest of Ghafoor, one of its board members, at Dubai international airport.
Dawn said Ghafoor, a civil rights lawyer based in Virginia who had represented Khashoggi and his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, was in transit to Istanbul on Thursday to attend a wedding when plainclothes security agents detained him and sent him to an Abu Dhabi detention facility before he could change planes. Ghafoor had no knowledge of any case against him and had transited through Dubai without incident less than a year ago.
This all happened as President Joe Biden accused a Saudi official of lying about the topics discussed in his private meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman while again downplaying his infamous fist bump with the prince. Mr. Biden met with MBS on Friday during his controversial trip, later telling reporters afer that he had confronted the crown prince about his role in the murder. MBS denied any responsibility and fired back at the president with the United States’ own controversies.
Early on Sunday, Biden arrived back at the White House from his four-day Middle East tour and briefly took questions from reporters gathered on the South Lawn. Hours earlier, just after Air Force One had taken off from Jeddah, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir called a Fox News reporter and claimed that he ‘did not hear’ Biden confront bin Salman, known as MBS, over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi officials have offered conflicting accounts of the conversation between Biden and MBS, and whether Khashoggi’s murder was discussed. Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan seemed to tell reporters that Biden did raise Khashoggi’s murder at the meeting. Bin Farhan said that MBS responded by slamming the US over its own abuses of human rights, including the notorious mistreatment of prisoners by military personnel at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
Al-Jubeir’s claim seems to directly contradict Biden’s account of the meeting with MBS on Friday, after which the president said that he had raised Khashoggi’s murder at the top of the meeting’ and accused the crown prince of directing the plot.