#DubaiUnlocked: Mass money laundering in UAE property market exposed

#DubaiUnlocked: Mass money laundering in UAE property market exposed
An international investigation has uncovered mass money laundering in the UAE property market, involving wanted criminals and sanctioned individuals.
3 min read
15 May, 2024
The UAE has been under the spotlight for alleged money laundering [Getty]

An international investigation has uncovered mass money laundering in the UAE property market, using data obtained by the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS).

The 'Dubai Unlocked'  investigation - a collaboration between more than 70 media outlets from 58 countries - has identified alleged money launderers, drug lords and scandal-stricken politicians and businessmen as being involved in the schemes.

The investigation used data from multiple data leaks, including from the Dubai Land Department and utility companies, to identify scores of individuals holding property in the emirate.

At least three individuals linked to Lebanon's Hezbollah paramilitary group are named in the report.

Alleged Hezbollah member Adham Tabaja is listed, alongside alleged group funder Ali al-Banai and Ali Raouf Osseiran. All three men are currently subject to US sanctions.

Rami and Ihab Makhlouf - cousins of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - are listed as holding several properties on Dubai's artificial Palm Jumeirah island. The pair, who are among Syria's richest people, are subject to US, EU and UK sanctions over corruption and links to abuses by the Assad regime.

Other notable individuals named in the report include Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons chief Jafar Dhia Jafar, sanctioned Myanmar arms broker Naing Htut Aung and Taha Osman Ahmed al-Hussein, a former Sudanese official accused of facilitating supplies for the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group.

The RSF has been accused of gross human rights abuses in Sudan and is thought to be backed by the UAE.

When approached by the investigation for comment, the UAE's embassy in Oslo said it "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 embassy added.

"The UAE is committed to continuing these efforts and actions more than ever today and over the longer term."

The investigation, which was launched in September 2023, comes amid ongoing efforts by Dubai to attract affluent international investors. In 2022, the emirate launched a scheme allowing foreigners to obtain a vista by owning around $545,000 in property.

The same year saw the UAE welcome the world's largest number of individuals with at least $1 million in investable funds, according to Henley & Partners.

The UAE has long been accused of being a hub for money laundering, although the the country was removed from a grey list by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) earlier this year.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this original mistakenly identified the former Lebanese minister Ali Osseiran instead of the sanctioned Lebanese businessman Ali Raouf Osseiran as the centre of allegations in this report. This is due to an error in media reports used in source material that have now been changed. The former minister is not linked to the allegations. The New Arab regrets this and has corrected this error.