Abu Dhabi Money Laundering and Tax Evasion Court, created in 2021, has convicted US citizen Asim Abdulrahman Ghafoor of committing money laundering crimes linked to a tax evasion operation in his country.

The UAE court lifted a prison sentence but upheld a conviction on money laundering charges for Ghafoor, who was detained while transiting through Dubai last month. 

It ordered Ghafoor to pay an AED 5m ($1.36m) fine and for AED18m in his account to be confiscated. But it removed a three-year jail term from an earlier sentence handed down in May of this year. 

A report by news agency WAM said the case was initiated following an assistance request received from US authorities regarding their investigation into the accused's involvement in tax evasion and suspicious money transfers in an attempt to conceal the illegal means by which the funds were acquired. 

US authorities also requested an examination of the accused's bank accounts through which he received transfers of the funds in question.

The Public Prosecution in Abu Dhabi started its procedures in implementing the request for judicial assistance and verifying the nature of the financial transactions related to those accounts and bank transfers, in coordination with the concerned authorities, as it was found that there was a money laundering crime that occurred in the country, by the accused making international money transfers without proving their source.

Ghafoor has the right to appeal the verdict, WAM further said. 

In an earlier statement on the case (8 August), the UAE Embassy in Washington said the UAE had initiated its investigation in 2020 into Ghafoor's activities 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.  

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

As shared with US authorities, the UAE investigation determined that Ghafoor committed tax evasion and money laundering by executing at least $4.9m 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.

While Ghafoor was not a resident of the UAE, 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 investigation established 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. 

This evidence was presented to the UAE Court of First Instance which convicted Ghafoor under Articles 1, 2/1, clauses a, b, and c 2/3, 5/3, 22/1. 261-2, 29/1 of UAE Federal Law No. 20 of 2018 as amended by Federal Decree-Law No.26 of 2021 on Anti Money Laundering and Combatting the Financing of Terrorism and Financing of Illegal Organizations, and Article 1 of Federal Law No. 7 of 2017 on Tax Procedures.

The embassy further stated that Ghafoor had indicated that he intended to appeal his conviction with his next court appearance set for 9 August. Ghafoor and his counsel have had multiple opportunities to confer in person or by video at their choosing and he has appeared in court on two occasions. At a previous hearing, the Court denied his request for bail pending appeal. He continues to have regular contact with his family and with US consular officials.

"The case reflects expanded UAE and US legal cooperation to combat transnational financial crimes.  The joint statement following the UAE-US bilateral meeting on 16 July noted that: "President Biden recognized the UAE's efforts to strengthen its policies and enforcement mechanisms in the fight against financial crimes and illicit money flows."