Hitmaker Dallas Austin has pleaded guilty to drug charges in Dubai, where he's been imprisoned for more than a month, local authorities have confirmed. Austin claimed at a hearing on Sunday (July 2) that he did not know he was carrying drugs.
"I'm pleading guilty, but by mistake," he told the court. "I had no knowledge and no intention of violating the law."
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 (see "Hitmaker Dallas Austin Imprisoned In Dubai On Drug Charges"). He is being held at Al Rashidiya jail, where he is being allowed visitors.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, journalists in Dubai speculate that Austin's lawyers will seek a pardon. Legal experts in Dubai say an admission of guilt is necessary before being granted a pardon.
According to local authorities, Dubai police had pulled Austin aside at customs upon his arrival at the airport and searched his luggage, in which they found a small bag containing slightly more than a gram of cocaine. A clerk at the Dubai Court of First Instance referred to the charges Austin faces as "possessing and taking drugs." The presence of restricted drugs and medication in the body can count as possession in the United Arab Emirates, the Persian Gulf nation in which Dubai is located, and Austin's urine tested positive for drugs, although authorities have yet to confirm which ones.
Dubai police stopped short of charging Austin with trafficking, which can result in a death-penalty sentence in the U.A.E. 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.
Dubai's public prosecutor said that the reason Austin was carrying the drugs would determine the length of the producer's prison sentence. Based on the amount found in his possession, the most time Austin would serve is five years. Even a small quantity of a controlled substance (which includes some over-the-counter U.S. drugs) can result in a four- to 15-year sentence in the U.A.E.
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 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 be sentenced at the Dubai Court of First Instance on July 4.