Dubai Unlocked: The Desert Capital Became a Hub for Money Launderers and Cybercrime Activists!

OCCRP report Dubai Unlocked
Spread financial intelligence

According to Transparency International, the recent OCCRP Dubai Unlocked investigation underscores the urgent need for stronger oversight of the UAE’s anti-money laundering (AML) initiatives. The findings highlight significant lapses in detecting and preventing illicit funds from being invested in the country’s real estate sector. With a reputation for financial secrecy and low taxes, the city is an appealing option for those looking to launder or hide cash.

Investigation Findings

Conducted by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies and coordinated with over 70 global media outlets, including E24 and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), the investigation revealed that more than 200 individuals, including alleged criminals, fugitives, political figures, and sanctioned persons, own over 1,000 properties in Dubai. This raises serious questions about the integrity of the UAE’s AML framework.

The OCCRP identified numerous politically exposed persons (PEPs) with high-end properties in Dubai, often with discrepancies between their official income and property values. PEPs, due to their prominent public roles, pose a high risk for involvement in bribery and corruption.

Issues with Current Oversight

Despite the frequent use of anonymous companies to mask property ownership, many identified individuals purchased properties under their own names. Given that UAE authorities likely possess this data, the lack of scrutiny on high-profile PEPs, including those under investigation or sanctions abroad, is concerning. Transparency International urges UAE authorities to proactively identify and investigate suspicious cases and collaborate with international counterparts.

Historical Context

This is not the first exposure of dubious real estate ownership in Dubai. In 2018, a significant data leak revealed numerous PEPs and sanctioned individuals owning properties in the UAE. A 2022 analysis of another leak showed that Russian elites and European white-collar criminals held Dubai real estate as recently as 2020. Despite this information being publicly available, there has been little evidence of targeted action by UAE authorities.

From a 2018 sample, Transparency International found that 58 out of 100 PEPs of interest still held properties without apparent legitimate income sources, according to the Dubai Land Department’s website.

The High-Risk Destination

These revelations come shortly after the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) removed the UAE from its grey list, acknowledging improvements in its AML efforts. However, the European Parliament has since rejected the proposal to remove the UAE from the EU’s high-risk list for AML.

Call to Action

Maíra Martini, Head of Policy & Advocacy (Interim) at Transparency International, emphasized the need for continued vigilance. “With numerous PEPs and other shady individuals still owning property in the UAE without investigation, the country has a long way to go in proving its commitment to tackling financial crime. The UAE must demonstrate its resolve by identifying suspicious cases and sharing intelligence with international partners.”

Transparency International calls on the global community to maintain pressure on the UAE to ensure effective implementation of AML reforms, stringent supervision, and international cooperation in combating cross-border corruption.

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