‘Dubai Uncovered’: Revelations on real estate in the emirate, where oligarchs and criminals invest

FILE - In this May 3, 2007 file photo, Jumeira Palm Island is seen from a helicopter. A new report released Tuesday, June 12, 2018, by the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies, described Dubai’s real-estate market as a haven for money launderers, terror financiers and drug traffickers sanctioned by the U.S. in recent years. The properties in question include million-dollar villas on the fronds of the man-made Palm Jumeirah archipelago to one-bedroom apartments in more-affordable neighborhoods in Dubai, the UAE’s biggest city. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)

This post was most recently updated on May 11th, 2022

INVESTIGATIONA leaked database reveals the amount of foreign real-estate investments in the emirate, one of the most opaque financial hubs in the world.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

With its artificial beaches, sculptural skyscrapers and desert ski resorts, Dubai is an extravagant paradise for the world’s wealthiest people. Yet the most glittering city in the United Arab Emirates is also one of the most opaque financial hubs on the planet and an advantageous destination for illicit or suspect money.

Since the war in Ukraine broke out on February 24, fears that Russian oligarchs would relocate their wealth to Dubai to escape sanctions have led to a wave of panic. At the beginning of March, the global anti-money laundering body, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), put Dubai on the “grey list” of countries who are asked to close their loopholes in the fight against dirty money. They are targeting both the finance and luxury real estate sectors, shrouded in secrecy.

This fear has now been confirmed by a database accessed by Le Monde, revealing the identity of 274,000 owners of 800,000 properties located in Dubai.

This land register database from 2020 were obtained by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), a U.S. think tank made up of former U.S. military officers and academics investigating international crime and conflict. It was the basis for the collaborative investigation “Dubai Uncovered,” which brought together 20 international media outlets under the umbrella of Norwegian financial media outlet E24.

Senior Russian politicians
This database, which was previously inaccessible to the public, the press, and researchers, shines a light on Dubai’s darker side. The list of property owners in the leak not only includes businessmen and businesswomen who came to the tiny emirate to enjoy its economic dynamism and its fiscal generosity, it also includes a large number of individuals involved in criminal activities (fraud, corruption, drug trafficking…) and targeted by judicial investigations or under international sanctions.

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These revelations feed into the emirate’s bad reputation. Dubai is regularly cited in major money laundering cases and has been a haven for drug traffickers and white-collar criminals wanted by international police forces and hoping to avoid extradition.

The efforts from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) investigative consortium, which partnered in this investigation, managed to identify two high-ranking Russian politicians targeted by international sanctions.

The first of them, Alexander Borodai, is known for having briefly served in 2014 as the “prime minister” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” the self-proclaimed government of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. He was then elected as an MP to Russia’s Duma in 2021. During his rapid rise in Russian politics, he quietly bought a large apartment in a lavish residential complex, Grandeur Residences-Maurya, in Palm Jumeirah, the iconic artificial island shaped like a palm tree. It features multiple swimming pools, restaurants, a heliport, a tennis court, and a 24-hour security service.


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