New report exposes how illicit wealth finds home in Dubai real estate – Businessday

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A fresh report by crack reporters on Dubai real estate has offered fresh insights into how illicit or unexplained wealth garnered as proceeds of crime and corrupt practices find home in that country which is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The new report compiled by Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) adds to earlier ones, especially the one that described Dubai property as an oasis for Nigeria’s corrupt political elite compiled by Matthew Page of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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The new data builds on earlier leaks of Dubai property records from 2016 and 2020, providing a more up-to-date look at who owns what across the city’s skyscrapers and opulent villa communities. From alleged cocaine traffickers to the relatives of African dictators and a coterie of sanctioned financiers, the findings reveal how Dubai has opened its arms to disreputable characters from around the globe.

Dubai is today the world’s hottest and most flourishing real estate destination, offering good opportunities and high return on investment and all it took the hitherto desert enclave to be what it has become is a friendly land policy and administration.

Dubai, according to Abdulrahman Kadri, a Nigerian realtor in that country, just decided to change its land policy, allowing foreigners freehold instead of leasehold in property ownership and the result is what we see there today.

Read also: Digital Dubai strategy holds lessons for Nigeria

OCCRP which describes Dubai as a global financial hub boasting one of the world’s most recognizable skylines, adds that political stability and investment in trade infrastructure also set the stage for the country’s transformation.

Its new report affirms that the key to this transformation was a set of policies that enticed foreigners from around the globe, including laws that made it easy for them to purchase real estate and the creation of free-trade zones with major tax exemptions.

“Construction boom ensued, with skyscrapers reaching record heights and mega-projects proliferating, from man-made islands to one of the world’s longest indoor ski slopes. Today, Dubai’s property market is one of the world’s hottest, and foreigners make up more than 90 percent of the population,” the report says.

It points out, however, that behind the glittering facade is another factor that aided the city’s rise, explaining that “Dubai’s high-rises and villas have served as a safe haven for some of the world’s most wanted criminals, due in part to the secrecy its real estate sector affords.”

“Banks or other money transfer agents in both Nigeria and the UAE do not appear to be reporting large or otherwise suspicious transactions by PEPs to national authorities,” the report noted, adding that for Nigeria’s PEPs and their associates, Dubai is a welcoming destination for any unexplained wealth.

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“The city’s property records are difficult to obtain and cannot be easily searched. In some cases, even international law enforcement officials have been unaware that people in their sights owned property in Dubai,” the OCCRP report adds.

A leaked property data has, however, revealed that convicted criminals and sanctioned individuals own, at least, one piece of real estate in Dubai, adding that there are also political figures and their associates, including those accused of corruption or who have kept their properties hidden from the public in this illicit trade.

BusinessDay had, in an earlier report, revealed that over 800 luxury properties in choice locations in Dubai valued at N146 billion (about $400 million) are linked to Nigerians, especially those the report described as politically exposed persons (PEPs).

The report by Page noted in the report that a couple of reasons have made the outflow of this money to the UAE country’s property market possible, saying that besides the transformation in Dubai’s land administration, the Nigerian elite faces few obstacles transferring large sums of money to that country.

OCCRP report, however, quotes the Dubai’s embassies in the UK and Norway as saying, in a brief response to the reporters’ enquiries, that the country “takes its role in protecting the integrity of the global financial system extremely seriously.”

“In its continuing pursuit of global criminals, the UAE works closely with international partners to disrupt and deter all forms of illicit finance. The UAE is committed to continuing these efforts and actions more than ever today and over the longer term,” the brief response added.

Despite this defence, the reporters still identified owners whose properties they believed to be in the public interest to reveal, separating such owners into convicted and alleged criminals, political figures, and people under sanctions who came from all corners of the globe.

The report notes that though Dubai is not the only place where criminals and others looking to stash their wealth have been able to scoop up properties —New York City and London real estate have also been known to attract dirty money.

But experts interviewed by OCCRP said there are several factors that strengthen Dubai’s appeal, particularly for those who are thwarted by sanctions from owning property in Western democracies, or are on the run from law enforcement.

In addition to its vast offerings of high-end real estate, Dubai holds another allure for those with ill-gotten cash to spend. Some of the country’s realtors have reputation for a ‘few-questions-asked’ approach when it comes to the origins of investors’ funds.

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