By Alexander Cornwell
DUBAI -U.S. citizen and civil rights attorney Asim Ghafoor, who was convicted in the United Arab Emirates this week on money laundering charges, has been released from detention there and was headed home to the United States, his lawyer said on Friday.
Ghafoor was freed after paying a fine, attorney Faisal Gill said, adding that the U.S. Embassy in the UAE helped facilitate his release.
A court on Wednesday upheld Ghafoor’s earlier in-absentia conviction, ordering him to pay a fine but revoking a three-year jail term handed down in May.
UAE officials had no immediate comment.
Ghafoor, who lives in Virginia, was transiting through Dubai airport on July 14 when he was detained for the in-absentia conviction in May for money laundering and tax evasion that followed a 2020 request for assistance by U.S. authorities.
Abu Dhabi’s Judicial Department on Wednesday said the court had also confiscated funds illegally moved through country. He would also be deported, it said. Al Mulla said the court confiscated 18 million dirhams ($4.9 million).
U.S. officials have not confirmed the assistance request, but said that the arrest was not made at the request of Washington.
Media reports in the United States say Ghafoor has in the past come under U.S. surveillance due to work representing Muslim Americans in civil rights cases.
The in-absentia trial and his detention last month while U.S. President Joe Biden was visiting the region has drawn criticism from rights groups and some members of Congress.
Ghafoor’s supporters say he has been denied due process and was unaware of the charges before being detained.
Some have also suggested the arrest could be politically motivated, citing his ties to Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by Saudi agents in Turkey in 2018, and work with rights groups critical of the UAE.
U.S. intelligence says Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation in which Khashoggi was killed. The prince has denied involvement. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are close allies.
UAE officials have repeatedly said the case against Ghafoor was strictly about financial crimes.
($1 = 3.6727 UAE dirham)
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Mike Harrison and Michael Perry)