Dubai Leaks: Confidential property records suggest Emirate is world’s ‘Costa del Crime’

A major leak of property and residency records has revealed the owners of hundreds of luxury properties in the secretive Emirate of Dubai – a hub of finance and trade, both licit and illicit, between Europe, Asia and Africa.

Finance Uncovered has explored the records as part of a team of investigative journalists assembled by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) to dig into the data, first obtained by the US non-profit C4ADS.

It contains about 54,000 addresses with 129,000 owners from 181 countries. Among them are world leaders, business moguls and sporting superstars, but also individuals linked to organised crime, corruption and other suspiciously-acquired sources of wealth.

Eye-wateringly rich Dubai has for decades been a magnet for celebrities, sport stars and expats in search of sun, glamour and wealth. But it also has a deeply dark side.

A staggering growth in the number of luxury villas and apartments, combined with one of the world’s most secretive property registers has made the Emirate a prime haven for laundered money, long surpassing Spain’s notorious ‘Costa del Crime’.

According to the UK’s National Crime Agency, the United Arab Emirates was the most favoured destination for laundered UK assets by value between 2011 and 2015.

But law enforcements agencies frequently do not even try to recover assets from Dubai because obtaining evidence for asset freezing court cases is so difficult.

Billions of pounds of stolen tax revenues from countries around the world are thought to be hidden in Dubai’s golden sands.

As the UK-based partner to the OCCRP investigation, we have produced a package of stories, including:

* a tour of Emirates Hills, one of Dubai most exclusive property developments that has acted as a magnet for the global wealthy, including kleptocrats linked to the wholesale looting of government funds

* the flamboyant British financier-turned-philanthropist currently under investigation for alleged tax evasion, who owned millions of dollars-worth of luxury property

* the Tory peer who has been forced to apologise to the House of Lords for previously failing to disclose properties he owned in the Emirate.

We also continue our 18-month investigation into the allegedly corrupt sale of the Nigerian offshore oil block OPL245 by disclosing that:

* former Nigerian petroleum minister Dan Etete bought two luxury properties in Dubai after receiving a $800 million transfer which flowed indirectly to his company from oil giants Shell and Eni as payment for the oil block.

The OCCRP has co-ordinated the project and full details of the global investigation can be found here shortly.

Casey Kelso, Advocacy Director of Transparency International, pointed to the “irony” of the UAE hosting next year’s Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

He said the country was characterised by “secrecy and financial regulatory permissiveness”, adding: “The question is if they can improve their tarnished and dented national image by finally enforcing the anti-money laundering measures that they have passed.”

A spokesperson for the Dubai Land Department said: “All processes and activities carried out by the Dubai Land Department comply with legislative and regulatory policies and laws in force in Dubai and the UAE, which are in line with international regulations aimed at promoting global peace, eliminating organised crime, and combating the financing of terrorism.”

* Finance Uncovered’s London reporting team: Margot Gibbs, Lionel Faull, Nick Mathiason, Ted Jeory and George Turner