Hitmaker Dallas Austin has been in a Dubai prison for more than a month on drug charges, local authorities have confirmed.
Austin, 33 — who’s worked with TLC, Gwen Stefani, Madonna, Pink, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and many others over his 17-year career — was traveling to Dubai to attend Naomi Campbell’s three-day birthday party at the Burj Al Arab hotel when he was detained at Dubai International Airport on May 19. He is currently being held at Al Rashidiya prison, where he is being allowed visitors.
While Dubai police did confirm that Austin is being held on drug charges, they stopped short of accusing him of trafficking, which can result in a death-penalty sentence in the United Arab Emirates, the Persian Gulf nation in which Dubai is located. Instead, officers characterized the amount of drugs Austin is alleged to have had in his possession as small, indicating it would likely have been for personal use.
A clerk at the Dubai Court of First Instance referred to the charges as “possessing and taking drugs,” which could mean that Austin was allegedly seen taking drugs, or that traces of drugs were allegedly in his system. Under U.A.E. law, the presence of restricted drugs and medication in the body can count as possession — even if an individual used a substance before arriving in the country. A British woman named Tracy Lewis was held for eight weeks in a Dubai jail in 2005 after testing positive for prescription drugs codeine and temazepam — even though codeine is available over-the-counter in England and one of the drugs found in her system was prescribed to her at the Dubai airport clinic.
Even a small quantity of a controlled substance (which can include some over-the-counter U.S. drugs and even poppy seeds) can result in a four- to 15-year sentence in the U.A.E. However, police estimated that Austin would likely receive a sentence of one to two years, depending on the results of their ongoing investigation. Dubai police did not specify whether Austin possessed cocaine, as some news outlets reported Friday, but did say that he allegedly possessed marijuana.
Sources close to Austin suggest that the producer aroused suspicion when, after first going through airport security upon arrival, he went back to retrieve something he had forgotten on the plane. The sources said any cocaine in Austin’s possession must have been a trace residue in a borrowed traveling bag.
The sources also said that Austin may have possessed the sleeping aid Ambien (also called Sonata or Zaleplon), which is not considered a narcotic but is on the U.A.E.’s list of restricted medications.
The State Department and the U.S. Consulate are attempting to assist Austin, but declined to provide further information about this specific case. A State Department official said in these types of cases the office typically supplies a list of local lawyers, contacts family members and seeks funds on the prisoner’s behalf, provides a loan if needed, visits the jail to make sure the prisoner is being treated fairly and provides basic toiletries.
Austin is scheduled to enter a plea at the Dubai Court of First Instance on July 2.