American appeals money laundering conviction in UAE, lawyer says

DUBAI (Reuters) - U.S. citizen and civil rights attorney Asim Ghafoor has appealed to a United Arab Emirates court his conviction for money laundering, his lawyer said on Friday, a week after he was released from detention there and returned to the United States.

Ghafoor, who has maintained innocence, last week paid a fine and was subsequently freed after the Abu Dhabi court upheld an earlier conviction for money laundering delivered in absentia but revoked a jail term.

"We have lodged the appeal today," lawyer Habib Al Mulla told Reuters.

UAE officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the appeal.

The UAE detained Ghafoor in July as he transited through Dubai airport after the in absentia conviction for money laundering and tax evasion, which followed what UAE officials have said was an assistance request from authorities in the United States in 2020. Ghafoor's supporters have said he was not aware of the charges until he was detained at the airport.

U.S. officials have not confirmed the request but have said the Emiratis detained Ghafoor at their own volition.

UAE officials said after Ghafoor was detained that an investigation found he had illegally moved at least $4.9 million through the UAE banking system. The Abu Dhabi court, upholding the conviction, ordered the funds be confiscated.

Ghafoor's supporters and U.S. lawmakers have said he was denied due process and suggested the arrest could be linked to his work with Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist murdered by Saudi Arabian agents in 2018, and 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.

The timing of Ghafoor's detention last month while U.S. President Joe Biden was visiting the region had also drawn criticism from some members of the U.S. Congress.

Emirati officials have repeatedly said the case against Ghafoor was strictly about financial crimes, and that he had been afforded due process since he was detained at Dubai airport.

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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