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UAE overturns prison sentence for former Khashoggi attorney

Court orders Asim Ghafoor to pay a $1.36m fine and for the $4.9m in his account to be confiscated, his lawyer says
Asim Ghafoor was detained while transiting through Dubai in May (AFP/File photo)

The United Arab Emirates has overturned a three-year prison sentence for US citizen and civil rights attorney Asim Ghafoor, who had represented slain Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi, one of his lawyers said.

Virginia-based Ghafoor had been convicted in absentia in the UAE on murky charges that included money laundering and tax evasion.

A 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 the Reuters news agency on Wednesday.

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The UAE embassy in Washington said earlier this week that Emirati authorities had determined Ghafoor had committed tax evasion and money laundering by moving at least $4.9m in international transfers through the UAE banking system.

Emirati authorities claim 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, 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.

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.

Ghafoor serves on the board of Washington-based human rights watchdog Democracy for the Arab World Now, (Dawn), which is highly critical of human rights abuses in the UAE.

Dawn had repeatedly called for Ghafoor's release, saying his conviction was obtained without due process, a criticism that has been taken up by members of US Congress.