Dubai real estate a haven for money laundering, report says


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Terror financiers, drug traffickers, war profiteers launder cash in luxury real estate

Money laundering through cash purchases of luxury real estate remains a favorite tactic to legitimize illicit funds—and the latest city added to this grim laundry list is Dubai. According to a new research report by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, Dubai real estate has become a preferred location for drug traffickers, terror financiers, and those who traffic illegally in war and weapons.

Using real-estate and ownership data leaked from confidential sources, the U.S.-based Center for Advanced Defense studies alleges that Dubai’s commitment to lax regulation, closely guarded data regarding transactions, and a so-called economic free zone has created a haven for money launderers and terror financiers.

The report, for example, names Rami Makhlouf as holding major investments in Dubai. Makhlouf, whom the U.S. has sanctioned, is a cousin of Syrian president Bashar Assad and is a wealthly and powerful Syrian businessman. The report also alleges that Lebanese businessmen with a history of supporting Hezbollah—and also on sanctions lists–also have large holdings in Dubai. The report identifies other sanctioned individuals with Dubai luxury properties, as well.

A New York Times AP report on the new research describes the history of Dubai and its longtime lure as a pass-through route for illegal activities like gold smuggling and the moving of guns and drugs. In 2002, a decision to allow foreign ownership of properties led to a construction boom in luxury properties that became easy targets for flipping among those seeking to launder dirty money.

According to U.S. diplomatic cables from 2009 published by Wikileaks, hundreds of millions of cash in dollars and euros from Afghanistan and Iraq and the region were transported by commercial airplanes to Dubai to be laundered.

The U.S. State Department has identified the United Arab Emirates as a problem area for money laundering due to bulk cash smuggling, its economic free zones, its opaque real-estate market, and its trade in gold and diamonds.

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