The US has said it did not ask the United Arab Emirates to arrest the former lawyer of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, after he was sentenced to jail.
Civil rights lawyer and US citizen Asim Ghafoor was sentenced to three years in prison on Saturday on charges of money laundering and tax evasion and was told he would be deported on release.
Mr Ghafoor has denied the charges and said he had no idea he had been convicted at some point in the past, in his absence.
He was arrested at Dubai airport on Thursday as he was passing through on his way to Istanbul and was taken to an Abu Dhabi detention centre.
The UAE said Mr Ghafoor’s arrest was a co-ordinated move with the US to “combat transnational crimes”, adding that American authorities had requested Emirati help with an investigation into the lawyer’s alleged tax evasion and what it said were suspicious money transfers in the Emirates.
But the US has now disputed that version, with the state department saying it had “not sought the arrest of Mr Ghafoor”.
The state department referred further questions to the department of justice, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr Ghafoor sits on the board of Washington-based human rights watchdog Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) and was a close friend of Mr Khashoggi, the dissident writer and Washington Post columnist dismembered by Saudi agents in Istanbul in 2018.
Mr Ghafoor represented Mr Khashoggi and his fiancee Hatice Cengiz.
The arrest has been raised “at senior levels with Emirati authorities”, the state department said, adding that it had also provided consular support, with American officials seeing Mr Ghafoor most recently on Sunday.
“We have conveyed our expectation that Mr Ghafoor’s rights to a fair and public hearing and to fair trial guarantees be fully respected and that he be treated humanely,” the department added in a statement.
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of DAWN, said: “We are outraged at the unjustified detention of our board member and extremely concerned for his health and physical security given the well-documented record of abuse in the UAE, including torture and inhuman treatment.”
In 2014, Mr Ghafoor was one of five prominent Muslim-Americans whose was emails were reportedly covertly scanned by the National Security Agency and the FBI under the US government’s secret surveillance program aimed at foreign terrorists and other national security threats.