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US officials attended detained American’s UAE hearing

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The US Embassy in the UAE. The State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington was watching Ghafoor's case closely and providing consular support

US embassy officials attended US citizen and rights lawyer Asim Ghafoor’s hearing in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, a State Department official said, adding that his next hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.

UAE authorities have said Ghafoor, a US citizen and civil rights attorney based in Virginia, was arrested last month while transiting through Dubai airport after a May conviction for tax evasion and money laundering following a trial held in absentia.

The UAE embassy in Washington said on Monday the Emirati investigation into Ghafoor’s activities was launched in 2020 on a request for assistance from the US mission in Abu Dhabi on behalf of the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service in a US probe.

Washington has not confirmed that the probe was initiated at its request.

The State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington was watching Ghafoor’s case closely and providing consular support. He said US officials had also observed his previous hearings on July 18 and August 1, which were held virtually.

“Consular officers from the US Embassy have visited him seven times, including joining him for trial proceedings, most recently on August 9,” the official said.

Rights groups have said Ghafoor was targeted because of his ties to the late Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by Saudi agents in 2018 at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in an operation that US intelligence says Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved. The prince has denied involvement.

The UAE statement on Monday also said the UAE and the US had been sharing information on Ghafoor’s case for more than two years as part of what it described as “intensified cooperation to combat transitional money-laundering and illicit finance.”

The State Department official said Washington has seen UAE’s Monday statement but had nothing further to add at this time.

Ghafoor was handed a three-year prison term and a fine of 3 million dirhams ($816,000), a UAE government official had said.

The Department of Justice had so far declined to comment on communications with foreign governments on investigative matters.

The State Department has said it had seen no indication that the detention was linked to Ghafoor’s ties with Khashoggi.