A report from the United States highlighted how drug traffickers, funders of armed groups such as Hezbollah, and even a cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, use real estate in Dubai to launder money.
The organisation that conducted the year-long research, US-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), looked at properties owned by several people who are sanctioned by either the US or the European Union (EU).
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According to C4ADS, the property they collectively own is worth more than $100m in prominent Dubai places such as Burj Khalifa and Palm Jumeirah.
“The transformation of Dubai’s property market into a haven for illicit capital has far-reaching implications for global stability and security, enabling and facilitating global purveyors of corruption, crime, extremism, and terror,” the report concludes.
Dubai is a popular place to launder money using real estate because it lacks strict regulation and oversight, the report says.
The subjects in the report hide their true ownership of the real estate by using shell companies and family members.
“A poorly regulated real estate sector goes far beyond just allowing illicit investment; it also directly facilitates the highest tier of global threats – from terrorism and organised crime to corruption and conflict financing,” the report says.
“Disrupting these threats will require substantial improvements in the policing and monitoring of the international financial system, particularly through the closing of information gaps in luxury real estate markets around the world,” it says.
The seven case studies in the report range from a Mexican drug dealer, Hassein Eduardo Figueroa Gomez, to Rami Makhlouf, a Syrian businessman and cousin of Assad.
According to the report the so-called Amhaz Network, a group of people connected to the armed wing of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, owns 13 properties worth about $70m, including a part of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
The leaders of that network, led by the Lebanese brothers Kamel Mohamed Amhaz and Issam Mohamed Amhaz, were sanctioned by the US for trying to buy electronics that could be used in armed drones by Hezbollah.
Mexican national Gomez, who has been named a major player in the international drug trade by the US Treasury Department, owns several properties in Dubai Marina, worth more than $4m in total.
Rami Makhlouf, one of the owners of telecom company Syriatel and considered one of Syria’s richest men, owns property worth almost $4m on the luxurious Palm Jumeirah, a man-made island shaped like a palm tree.
Other cases relate to people who ran an international network to circumvent fuel sanctions put on Syria and an Iranian national sanctioned after he tried to illegally acquire components for Iran’s ballistic missile programme, among others.
C4ADS emphasises Dubai is not the only attractive real estate market used to launder money.
Other high-end real estate markets like London, New York, Miami, Doha, Hong Kong and Sydney are also used regularly for illicit purposes.