The US said it was not involved in the arrest of the lawyer, contradicting a statement by Abu Dhabi.
The United Arab Emirates reasoning behind the arrest of the former lawyer of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been contradicted by Washington, which said it was not involved in the move.
On Monday, the US State Department said it “has not sought the arrest” of American citizen Asim Ghafoor, who was picked up by Emirati agents at Dubai airport on Thursday while transiting through the facility.
Just days later, authorities in the UAE sentenced the lawyer to three years in prison over money laundering and tax evasion charges, according to the UAE’s press agency (WAM).
The Emirati court accused Ghafoor “of committing two crimes of tax evasion and money laundering related to a tax evasion operation in his country”, suggesting the arrest was part of joint efforts with the US to “combat transnational crimes”.
However, Ghafoor has rejected those claims and maintains he has no knowledge of the charges.
The case was further complicated on Monday after a US State Department official said it was not involved, in stark contradiction to the Emirati account.
“The Emiratis have spoken to their rationale for the detention,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington. “We have requested additional information from our Emirati partners and we’re watching this case closely.”
Ghafoor is also a board member of rights organisation Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), which was founded by Khashoggi before his killing in 2018.
On Friday, DAWN said Ghafoor was arrested by UAE agents in plainclothes during his transit to Istanbul to attend a family wedding.
DAWN described the detainment of its board member as a “politically motivated in absentia” conviction. Ghafoor was a close friend of Khashoggi as well as the lawyer of the slain journalist’s fiancé Hatice Cengiz.
Despite this, the official said the US has “seen no indication at this point that his detention has anything to do with his association with Jamal Khashoggi,” noting authorities in WAshington are “still gathering information.”
The US said it has provided consular support and noted American officials paid a trip to Ghafoor on Sunday. Washington has also raised the case “with senior levels of the Emirati government,” Price added.
“We have conveyed our expectations to our Emirati partners that Mr. Ghafoor receive continued consular access, that he’d be afforded a fair and transparent legal process, and that he’d be treated humanely.”
In a statement announcing his arrest, DAWN slammed the move as unjustified.
“We are outraged at the unjustified detention of our board member and extremely concerned for his health and physical security given the well-documented record of abuse in the UAE, including torture and inhuman treatment,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of DAWN.
According to DAWN, Ghafoor was not granted his right to defend himself and insisted that he had no knowledge of any legal matter against him. The lawyer faced no such issues less than a year ago when he transitted through the Dubai International Airport.
“Whatever trumped up legal pretext the UAE has cooked up for detaining Ghafoor, it smacks of politically motivated revenge for his association with Khashoggi and DAWN, which has highlighted UAE human rights abuses and urged an end to arms sales to the country,” added Whitson.
At the time of his arrest, the rights group demanded the release of Ghafoor while urging US President Joe Biden to cancel his meeting in Saudi Arabia with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MbZ).
Despite this, Biden met with MbZ and invited him to visit Washington.