US officials asking Qatar to allow couple to leave country

LOS ANGELES - US officials have been in contact with Qatar's government to ask them to allow a Los Angeles couple to return home after an appeals court threw out convictions linked to the death of their African-born adopted daughter, a State Department spokeswoman said on Monday.

A Qatari appeals court overturned the convictions of Matthew and Grace Huang on Sunday over the death of their 8-year-old daughter, Gloria, after finding that a lower court had made errors in the high-profile case.

But the US couple's passports were seized at the Doha airport as they sought to leave the Gulf Arab state, and they were told a new arrest warrant had been issued, a family spokesman said.

Secretary of State John Kerry swiftly issued a statement saying he was deeply concerned over the complications and called on Qatari officials to allow the Huangs to return home.

On Monday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that the US ambassador to Qatar had visited with the couple on Sunday and had been in touch with Qatari officials to get the travel ban lifted. "As you may have seen and many of you reported, while the case was overturned, the travel ban was not yet overturned,"Psaki said. "And so that is, of course, the issue at play here, and one we're certainly working with all relevant folks to resolve."

Psaki said the complications involved additional paperwork that was being required by Qatari officials. "We continue to plead with the US Ambassador to Qatar Dana Smith, the Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama to call the Emir of Qatar to free these two innocent American citizens," family spokesman Eric Volz said in a statement. "It is important to note that all the proper paperwork has been filed to allow them to leave Qatar," he said.

The Huangs were arrested in January 2013 after an autopsy found their daughter died of "cachexia and dehydration." They were charged with "murder with intent by forced starvation" and convicted in April. Cachexia is an irreversible loss of body mass.

The couple said Gloria had suffered from malnutrition-related diseases since they adopted her from Ghana at age 4.

A website created to publicize the case said the Huangs had moved to Qatar so Matthew, a Stanford-trained engineer, could work on a project related to the 2022 World Cup.