UAE provides further details of Asim Ghafoor conviction

Embassy in Washington says UAE’s investigation into US citizen started in 2020 after an official request from US Department of Justice

The US Department of Justice building in Washington. AFP
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The UAE Embassy in Washington released on Monday more details on the conviction of US citizen Asim Ghafoor, saying he had evaded tax and money laundered at least $4.9 million via international financial transfers through the UAE’s banking system.

A statement about the case of Ghafoor — who was arrested and convicted last month in the country — said that as part of the “intensified co-operation to combat transnational money-laundering and illicit finance, the UAE and the US have been sharing information on the case of Asim Ghafoor for more than two years”.

The UAE started its investigation “after receiving an official request from the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi on behalf of the US Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations Division for mutual legal assistance related to an ongoing probe of Ghafoor by US authorities,” the statement said.

Based on this investigation, a UAE court convicted Ghafoor on charges of money laundering and tax evasion on May 25, 2022.

The results of the investigation were shared with US authorities, the UAE said, and they determined that Ghafoor committed tax evasion and money laundering by executing at least $4.9 million in international financial transfers through the UAE banking system.

“The transfers were executed through multiple bank accounts that he opened with the intent to conceal the origin of the funds from tax authorities. One account was opened as early as 2013 and another was closed in 2020 after suspicious activity was detected,” the UAE Embassy statement said.

Ghafoor was not a resident of the UAE at the time, but dozens of cash deposit and debit transactions were made on his accounts through ATMs based in the UAE by an unidentified third party using Ghafoor’s bank cards, the embassy added.

The investigation uncovered criminal intent through “evidence that the transfers on the accounts were inconsistent with the original purpose for which they were opened with the intent to conceal or disguise the nature and origin of the funds obtained from illegal sources”.

“The UAE provided the US details of these transfers which were directed to recipients in several countries including the US,” the statement said.

The UAE Embassy said that Ghafoor “is being afforded due process of the law and has been advised by legal counsel in the UAE” and that he intends to appeal against his conviction, with his next court appearance set for Tuesday. He also continues to have regular contact with his family and with US consular officials, said the embassy.

“The case reflects expanded UAE and US legal co-operation to combat transnational financial crimes,” the statement said.

Documents seen by The National show that Ghafoor had three meetings with US consular officers on July 15, July 18 and August 5; two phone conversations with his family on July 22 and July 30, and five meetings with his lawyer on July 18, July 28, July 30, August 1 and August 5.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said last month that Washington was watching the case closely and providing appropriate consular support. He said that consular officials visited Ghafoor more than once in July and attended his virtual hearing.

The State Department is referring all legal questions to the Department of Justice. But it said the US “conveyed our expectations to our Emirati partners that Mr Ghafoor receive continued consular access, that he be afforded a fair and transparent legal process, and that he be treated humanely”.

An Emirati official told The National that the embassy statement follows briefings that UAE ambassador to Washington and Minister of State Yousef Al Otaiba and his team held with members of Congress about the case, detailing legal assurances and evidence that led to Ghafoor’s conviction. A few members of Congress criticised the arrest in the last few weeks and had asked for more information.

Contacted by The National, the US Department of Justice was not immediately available for comment.

Updated: August 09, 2022, 4:33 PM