U.S. says no indication American’s detention in UAE linked to Khashoggi

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WASHINGTON -The U.S. State Department on Monday said it has seen “no indication at this point” that the detention of an American in the United Arab Emirates is linked to his ties to slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“But we are still gathering information,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

UAE authorities last week detained Asim Ghafoor, a U.S. citizen and civil rights attorney who previously served as a lawyer for Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist killed by Saudi agents in 2018 at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

U.S. intelligence says Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation targeting Khashoggi. The prince denies involvement. Ghafoor’s detention coincided with a visit by U.S. President Joe Biden to Saudi Arabia.

Price said that U.S. embassy officials had observed Ghafoor’s virtual court hearing on Monday.

“We have conveyed our expectations to our Emirati partners that Mr. Ghafoor receive continued consular access, that he be afforded a fair and transparent legal process and that he be treated humanely,” Price said.

A UAE government official said on Monday that the United States had been investigating Ghafoor for money laundering and tax evasion and had asked the UAE in 2020 for assistance and information.

The UAE then initiated its own investigation, the UAE official said, which “established sufficient evidence of criminal violations of UAE anti-money laundering and tax laws.”

A U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson declined to comment on “communications with foreign governments on investigative matters, including confirming or denying the very existence of such communications.”

Ghafoor was then convicted of tax evasion and money laundering in the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court and sentenced on May 25, 2022 to three years in prison, a fine of AED 3 million ($816,000), and deportation, the UAE official said.

“Mr. Ghafoor has the right appeal his conviction and sentence,” the official said.

(Reporting by Humerya Pamuk in Washington and Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai; Writing by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Mark Porter)