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Former Khashoggi lawyer Asim Ghafoor leaves UAE after jail term overturned

Ghafoor ordered to pay $1.36m fine before leaving United Arab Emirates after being convicted of money laundering
Asim Ghafoor, who helped set up a human rights group with Khashoggi, had been transiting through Dubai en route to Istanbul for a family wedding when he was detained (AFP)

Asim Ghafoor, the former lawyer of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has left the United Arab Emirates after a prison sentence against him was overturned.  

Ghafoor's representative, Faisal Gill, told AFP on Saturday that the US lawyer would return to the United States after paying a five million dirham ($1.36m) fine. 

"He's on his way to the US," Gill said, adding that he was not facing any charges in the US.

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Ghafoor, who helped to set up a human rights group with Khashoggi, had been transiting through Dubai en route to Istanbul for a family wedding when he was detained.

The UAE's official WAM news agency said the Abu Dhabi Money Laundering and Tax Evasion Court upheld Ghafoor's conviction and accused him of "money laundering crimes linked to a US-based tax evasion operation". 

The court in the UAE lifted the three-year prison term and ordered Ghafoor to pay a $1.36m fine and for the $4.9m in his account to be confiscated, lawyer Habib al-Mulla told Reuters on Wednesday.

His lawyer rejected the charges of tax evasion and illegal money transfers, the Associated Press reported. His supporters insist he had no opportunity to defend himself against the charges and describe his trial and conviction as unjust.

Earlier this month, the UAE embassy in Washington said Emirati authorities had determined Ghafoor committed tax evasion and money laundering by moving at least $4.9m in international transfers through the country's banking system.

Emirati authorities said they had investigated Ghafoor at the request of the US. The State Department, however, said Washington had not ordered Ghafoor's detention. The Justice Department declined requests to comment.

Ghafoor, a US and civil rights lawyer, is a board member of the Democracy for the Arab World Now group, founded by Khashoggi, which is heavily critical of the authoritarian UAE. 

The lawyer's website states that Ghafoor had previously defended businesspeople, charity leaders and institutions accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks in the United States.