Dubai’s Property Market Attracts Illicit Wealth from Nigeria’s Political Elite

Chinwe Okafor
4 Min Read

New data from the OCCRP updates prior leaks of Dubai property records from 2016 and 2020, offering a current overview of property ownership across the city’s skyscrapers and luxurious villa communities.

The findings reveal that individuals ranging from alleged cocaine traffickers to relatives of African dictators and a host of sanctioned financiers have found a welcoming environment in Dubai.

Dubai has emerged as a premier global real estate destination, known for its investment opportunities and high returns. This transformation was driven by a strategic change in land policies, as explained by Abdulrahman Kadri, a Nigerian realtor in Dubai. By allowing foreigners to own property freehold rather than leasehold, Dubai attracted a wave of international investors.

OCCRP describes Dubai as a global financial hub with one of the world’s most recognizable skylines. The city’s rise was fueled by political stability, substantial investment in trade infrastructure, and policies that encouraged foreign investment, including easy property acquisition laws and free-trade zones with significant tax exemptions.

“Dubai’s construction boom saw skyscrapers reaching record heights and mega-projects proliferating, from man-made islands to one of the world’s longest indoor ski slopes. Today, Dubai’s property market is one of the hottest globally, with foreigners constituting more than 90 percent of the population,” the report notes.

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However, the report also highlights a darker side, pointing out that Dubai’s real estate sector has become a safe haven for some of the world’s most wanted criminals, largely due to the secrecy it affords. “Banks or other money transfer agents in both Nigeria and the UAE do not appear to be reporting large or otherwise suspicious transactions by politically exposed persons (PEPs) to national authorities,” the report states, adding that Dubai is a favorable destination for unexplained wealth from Nigeria’s PEPs and their associates.

The report further reveals that property records in Dubai are difficult to access and search, often leaving even international law enforcement officials unaware of property ownership by individuals under investigation. Leaked property data has shown that convicted criminals and sanctioned individuals own at least one piece of real estate in Dubai. Additionally, political figures and their associates, including those accused of corruption, have also been found to hide their properties in this secretive market.

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A prior report by BusinessDay disclosed that over 800 luxury properties in Dubai, valued at approximately $400 million, are linked to Nigerians, particularly politically exposed persons (PEPs). Page’s report indicated that the ease with which Nigerian elites can transfer large sums of money to Dubai, coupled with the city’s land policy transformation, facilitates this outflow.

Despite assurances from Dubai’s embassies in the UK and Norway about the UAE’s commitment to protecting the integrity of the global financial system and collaborating with international partners to combat illicit finance, the OCCRP report identifies property owners whose identities are in the public interest to disclose. These include convicted and alleged criminals, political figures, and sanctioned individuals from around the world.

The report acknowledges that Dubai is not unique in attracting illicit wealth, with cities like New York and London also known for such activities. However, experts interviewed by OCCRP pointed out that Dubai’s appeal is particularly strong for individuals facing sanctions in Western democracies or those evading law enforcement. The city’s extensive high-end real estate offerings and some realtors’ ‘few-questions-asked’ approach to the origins of investors’ funds further enhance its attractiveness to those with ill-gotten wealth.

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