Dubai’s skyline serves as a haven for the criminal elite

A new report uses leaked city data to show $100M in investments by foreign criminals

Dubai Skyline (Credit: David Rodrigo via Unsplash and iStock)
Dubai Skyline (Credit: David Rodrigo via Unsplash and iStock)

Dubai’s real estate boom was in part funded by gun-runners, terrorism financiers, and warmongers, according to a new report using leaked city data to prove what has long been suspected.

The Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies found $100 million in suspicious real estate purchases in the city, that included apartments owned by a Hezbollah financier and a cousin of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad who was sanctioned by the United States, according to the Associated Press.

The Arabian Peninsula city’s boom took off in 2002, when the United Arab Emirates allowed foreign ownership of certain buildings, prompting rapid construction and development from overseas investors.

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Since then iconic buildings reaching record breaking heights, including the Burj Khalifa, or the construction of the man-made islands, Palm Jumeirah archipelago. The report also identified $21 million in real estate owned by a Pakistani money laundering ring that funded Al-Qaeda and drug traffickers.

There is no publicly-accessible database for its real estate transactions, and it’s easy to flip luxury property and park money. C4ADS said it used private UAE data compiled by real estate professionals.

In 2017, authorities in Pakistan said its citizens had invested an estimated $8 billion in Dubai’s real estate market, possibly to avoid taxes. Money laundering investigations involving Dubai have been launched by the governments of Nigeria and South Africa, the AP reported.

In October 2016, The Real Deal examined a series of money-laundering operations that ensnared high-profile developers in Manhattan. [AP Bloomberg] — David Jeans