'Dubai Unlocked': Over 70 journalists from global media investigating project involving terrorist financiers, drug lords and kleptocrats

    The Hawk
    May20/ 2024
    Last Updated:

    This investigation uncovers the purchase of millions of dollars worth of property in Dubai by various individuals, including terrorist financiers, drug lords, and kleptocrats.

    Real estate in Dubai

    Singapore: More than 70 media outlets across the world have been named in an international investigation known as the ‘Dubai Unlocked’ project which is linked to several Chinese-origin foreigners who were part of a SGD3 billion money laundering case, some of whom have been convicted.

    The people involved in the Dubai Unlocked were identified as having purchased ‘millions of dollars worth’ of property in Dubai alongside terrorist financiers, drug lords and kleptocrats, according to a report by The Straits Times on Sunday.

    More than 70 media outlets across the world, including The Straits Times, Al Jazeera, Forbes, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Times were reportedly involved in 'Dubai Unlocked'.

    The reports are based on a massive leak of records of hundreds of thousands of properties in Dubai and information about their ownership or usage, mostly from 2020 and 2022.

    The data was obtained by the Centre for Advanced Defence Studies, a non-profit organisation based in the United States, and shared with Norwegian financial outlet E24 and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which coordinated the investigations over the course of more than six months.

    The leak revealed that former Afghan Parliament Speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani and his son Ajmal spent more than $15 million on real estate in Dubai, said the report.

    Both were sanctioned in 2023 for misappropriating US government aid, allegedly siphoning off millions of dollars in American reconstruction funds after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

    The leak contained the names of several people linked to sanctioned terrorist organisations, the Singapore daily report said, citing a May 15 report by Nikkei Asia.

    They include Adham Tabaja, an alleged member of terrorist group Hezbollah; Qatari-based Ali al-Banai, who is believed to be part of an international network helping to finance Hezbollah’s operations; and Ali Osseiran, who is allegedly facilitating money laundering for Hezbollah through art businesses.

    They all own properties in Dubai, including Ali Osseiran, who has a unit in Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper.

    The Rolling Stone on May 14 identified several drug lords among those named in the leak.

    It reported that Asadullah Khalid, a drug lord and war criminal, had purchased a home in Dubai. The former Afghan government official also owns a villa there, which he rented out for tens of thousands of dollars every month.

    Uruguayan drug cartel leader Sebastian Marset, who is wanted by the authorities across South America for drug trafficking, was also identified as a property owner.

    The leak also revealed that a pair of cryptocurrency scammers, linked to the US$4 billion (SGD5.38 billion) OneCoin fraud case, managed to liquidate their Dubai properties even though they were facing criminal charges in the US.

    As part of the Dubai Unlocked project, money laundering accused Su Jianfeng had allegedly worked with a Singapore-based businessman to sell properties in Dubai worth tens of millions of dollars to foreigners based in the city state.

    Su owned 12 properties in Dubai, valued at around USD 21.4 million, according to The Straits Times report. He currently faces a total of 12 charges.

    Lin Baoying, another person linked to the money laundering case who faces three charges in Singapore, was found to own a villa in Dubai valued around US$9.5 million.

    Convicted money launderer Su Haijin, who was sentenced to 14 months’ jail by the Singapore courts in April, owns 11 units spanning the entire 58th floor of the Grande Downtown, a luxury condominium that offers unobstructed views of the Burj Khalifa.

    Several others, who similarly own entire floors of apartments in the same building, lived in Singapore until recently. They left the country around the time the 10 foreigners linked to the USD 3 billion money laundering case were arrested.

    However, officials from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) rubbished the reports in the Khaleej Times on May 15. The Emirati broadsheet quoted an unnamed official who said that the UAE is committed to fighting money laundering. The official pointed out that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) had taken the UAE off its grey list in February 2024.

    The FATF, which is the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog, places jurisdictions on the grey list if they are working to resolve “strategic deficiencies within agreed timeframes”.

    These countries are subject to increased monitoring by the watchdog.

    In response to queries from OCCRP, the UAE Embassy in Oslo said it is committed to safeguarding the integrity of the global financial system.

    “The UAE takes its role in protecting the integrity of the global financial system extremely seriously,” the embassy was quoted as saying.

    “In its ongoing hunt of global criminals, the UAE is working closely with international partners to interrupt and prevent all forms of illegal finance.” Hamid Al Zaabi, director-general of the UAE’s Executive Office of Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing, was in Singapore in November 2023 with a delegation of Emirati authorities.

    According to The Straits Times report, he saw it as a positive thing when the UAE was placed on the FATF grey list in 2022, as it led to better processes in the UAE.

    But Al Zaabi’s office has not commented on the Dubai Unlocked project.