American attorney convicted in UAE of money laundering will pay fine - lawyer

DUBAI (Reuters) - U.S. citizen and civil rights attorney Asim Ghafoor, who was convicted in the United Arab Emirates this week on money laundering charges, maintains his innocence but will pay the $1.36 million court fine so that he can be released from detention, his lawyer said on Friday.

The 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.

"We are planning to pay the fine so that he can be released," said Habib Al Mulla, a lawyer representing Ghafoor. "We continue to claim his innocence."

It was not immediately clear when the fine would be paid.

UAE officials had no immediate comment.

The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ghafoor, who lives in Virginia, was transiting through Dubai airport on July 14 when he was detained for what the UAE said was an 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; Editing by Mike Harrison)

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