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News / Dubai Leaks: How Illicit Funds Reside In Dubai Real Estate

Dubai Leaks: How Illicit Funds Reside In Dubai Real Estate

Data leak reveals the financial inflow into Dubai real estate by bureaucrats, criminals, and sanctioned politicians.

06 min read

Dubai Unlocked, the most recent investigation, with the participation of over 70 media outlets around the world, is the latest information about who owns what in the Middle Eastern city.

The report, entitled ‘How Dirty Money Yields in the Dubai Real Estate,’ was compiled by

journalists from 74 different entities in 58 countries after an investigation encompassing more than six months and including real estate assets up to the spring of 2022.

The Gulf city, famous for its beautiful beach clubs, high-end shopping, and futuristic skyline, is a paradise for the world’s rich and famous. However, lax regulations have also made its real estate market a haven for a different elite: fugitives, alleged criminals, politicians, and sanctioned persons who want to hide their assets abroad.

Who Compiles This Information?

The Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), a non-profit that studies international crime and conflict with its headquarters in Washington, D.C., received the data. Subsequently, it was sent to the Norwegian financial publication E24 and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which oversaw an international investigation project involving numerous media outlets throughout the globe.

The leaked data gives a detailed portrayal of hundreds of thousands of properties in Dubai and information about their ownership or usage, mostly from 2020 and 2022.

Who Owns What?

Data from the OCCRP’s “Dubai Unlocked” research shows that Indians have the highest percentage of foreign-owned residential properties in Dubai, with 35,000 properties and 29,700 owners. The total worth of these properties is recognized to be $17 billion.

In the 2022 sample, 22,000 residential properties owned by 19,500 UK citizens are valued at $10 billion, whereas 16,000 houses owned by 8,500 Saudi nationals are valued at $8.5 billion.

In particular, the leak also reveals that about 17,000 Pakistanis possess about 23,000 properties in Dubai worth $12.5 billion. This massive investment makes Pakistani nationals second, after Indian citizens. Rich Pakistani people spend a lot of money on Dubai real estate, and among the famous Dubai property owners are the officials, politicians, and the military.

In addition to other politically exposed persons on the list, members of three West African presidential families are the focus of a long-going French corruption probe.

The discovered data also indicates that at least four of the Aussie Cartel members, their accomplices, or relatives, have luxury properties in Dubai.

Besides the famous people from all the countries on the Property Leaks list, Rolling Stone magazine also mentioned the name of the Brazilian sertanejo musician Danilo Vunj瓊o Santana Gouveia. As it is, Gouveia is wanted in Brazil for being accused of leading the major Bitcoin Ponzi scheme.

From the cocaine traffickers of Australia to the relatives of West African dictators and the Hezbollah financiers who are officially sanctioned, the findings show us how the city has welcomed all the corrupted persons from all over the world.

James Henry, a Yale Global justice fellow and an expert on tax havens, compared the United Arab Emirates to the Star Wars bar scene.

You enter, you see the kleptocrats on the left, the oligarchs in the middle, and the money launderers on the right, and then you see the dirty Russian commodity traders at the back, using it as a loophole for sanctions,” shared Henry. All of them receive the same level of fundamental financial secrecy.

Anti-Money Laundering Efforts By Dubai

The officer from Dubai polices anti-money laundering police unit, Sauod Abdulaziz Almutawa, who was informed about the incident, said the emirate has a zero risk tolerance to noncompliance and toward wrong actions.

“Dubai is not a safe zone for criminals to hide their money. Dubai is a safe place for legitimate commerce, for the hardworking and disciplined people who earned what they have through their efforts,” he added.

The Shadowy Face Of Dubai Property

As per Transparency International, Dubai, famous for its extravagant lifestyle, is also a tax haven and a center for money laundering through real estate.

The OCCRP investigation uncovered two financial systems in Dubai: a formal, compliant system and an informal one that was supported by illegal money and often received untracked cash deliveries via private planes.

The Dubai Unlocked research has proved that the UAE has to do everything possible to prevent and detect the illicit funds flow. Transparency International has demanded that UAE authorities look into the findings which showed that 200 people, including criminals and political figures, have more than 1,000 properties in Dubai.

Denise Sprimont-Vasquez, a Portfolio Manager at C4ADS, stated that these kinds of investigations are the main factors in finding out how we can boost the transparency for the governments, leading no illicit activity.

The investigation found a lot of politically exposed persons with a credit discrepancy between their Dubai properties and their income. Although the advancement of anonymous companies is the reason, most of the properties were bought under the owners’ names, which conflicts with the UAE’s regulatory oversight.

Must Read: Banks Have To Get Better At Combating Money Laundering, Shares OSFI Director

After the UAE’s removal from the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list, the international community, among them the European Parliament, still needs to be sure of the UAE’s anti-money laundering commitment.

Ma穩ra Martini of Transparency International is asking the UAE to show its dedication to the issue by finding and solving suspicious cases and by cooperating with the international community. This implies the essence of the effective implementation of the UAE’s anti-money laundering reforms and regulatory enhancement.

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Published Date

May 15, 2024

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