UAE security agents have detained US citizen Asim Ghafoor, former lawyer of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, on charges related to an in absentia conviction for money laundering.
Human rights group Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) in a statement said that Ghafoor, who is a co-founder and board member of their organization, was detained at Dubai airport on Thursday while travelling to Istanbul for a family wedding.
“Detaining Ghafoor on the basis of an in absentia conviction without providing him any information, notice, or opportunity to defend himself against is a flagrant violation of his due process rights,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Dawn’s executive director.
The Abu Dhabi Money Laundering Court convicted Ghafoor of committing “two crimes of tax evasion and money laundering related to a tax evasion operation in his country and sentenced him to three years in prison and a fine of three million dirhams ($US 816,748), with deportation from the UAE,” according to WAM.
Ghafoor stated he had no knowledge of any legal matter against him, Dawn said.
“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,” Whitson said.
A senior US administration official, when asked by reporters about the detention, said the United States was aware of it and “there’s no indication that it has anything to do with Khashoggi or anything else.”
He also added that he could not say whether President Joe Biden planned to raise the issue in bilateral talks with UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed on the sidelines of an Arab summit in Saudi Arabia.
Biden was in the Middle East this week for a multi-country trip that included stops in the Occupied Palestine, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia.
He has been fiercely criticized for his trip to Saudi Arabia, the country he had promised, when running for president in 2019, to make the “pariah that they are” over its human rights abuses, in particular the killing of dissident journalist Khashoggi on the direct orders of the Saudi crown prince, also known as MBS.
When Biden met with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, both leaders ignored shouted questions about Khashoggi’s former lawyer. Biden publicly invited the UAE leader to Washington before the end of the year.
In a meeting with reporters Friday night, Adel al-Jubeir, a Saudi diplomat and former foreign minister, said the crown prince had assured Biden that Saudi Arabia had conducted its own investigation in Khashoggi’s killing and that the perpetrators had been arrested.
Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who has been an outspoken critic of both Washington and Riyadh, tweeted a message that she said Khashoggi would have posted in reaction to Biden and Mohammad bin Salman’s meeting, reading, “Hey POTUS, Is this the accountability you promised for my murder? The blood of MBS’s next victim is on your hands.”
What Jamal Khashoggi would tweet today: pic.twitter.com/Gv4Up7TLgd— Hatice Cengiz / خديجة (@mercan_resifi) July 15, 2022
Saudi journalist Khashoggi, who was murdered and dismembered by a Saudi “hit squad” at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, used to be a vocal critic of the Saudi regime and the crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Saudi Arabia initially issued conflicting stories about Khashoggi’s disappearance, but eventually claimed that the Washington Post columnist had been killed in a “rogue” operation.
The high-profile targeted killing has affected Riyadh’s relations with a number of countries, but those relations are being restored.