May 14, 2024
The Bottom Line Up Front

As we continue to expand our dataset on assets hiding in Dubai, C4ADS is collaborating with a coalition of scholars and journalists to expose the illicit networks exploiting the UAE property market.

Background #

The Dubai property market is a key haven for international kleptocrats, transnational organized crime, and a vast array of other illicit actors — from narcotics traffickers to Russian oligarchs. These networks flock to the United Arab Emirates seeking the benefits of its high levels of secrecy, gaps in enforcement, and to use luxury property as a vehicle to store and launder ill-gotten gains. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, we’ve tracked Russian oligarchs moving their vessels and aircraft to Dubai, and identified at least 76 Dubai properties held by Russian and Belarusian illicit actors.

History of the Database #

In 2018, C4ADS identified 44 real estate properties held directly by sanctioned individuals, as well as another 37 held by their expanded networks — you can read about this in our landmark report, Sandcastles. We shared that data with the Organized Crime & Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), who conducted a series of investigations into additional illicit actors with property holdings in Dubai — read Golden Sands to learn more. We also worked alongside the Carnegie Endowment to further examine Dubai’s Role in Facilitating Corruption and Global Illicit Financial Flows. But we didn’t stop there.

Since Sandcastles was published in 2018, C4ADS has worked to collect, curate, and expand our Dubai Property Database to 833,000 Dubai property control records, revealing even more secrets hidden in Dubai’s luxury real estate market. Sourced from the Dubai Land Department and public utilities companies, the dataset covers a complete snapshot of Dubai real estate control in 2019, as well as a partial picture of controlling parties in 2020 and 2021. It is the most complete dataset of its kind in the public domain.

About the Coalition #

But our dataset is no good if not shared — which is why for the last few years, we’ve collaborated with a coalition of journalists and scholars around the world to shed light on the vast illicit wealth held in Dubai’s property market.

In 2022, members of this coalition shared findings from their initial investigations:

  1. C4ADS worked with a team of the world’s leading experts in tax justice at the University of California, Berkeley and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) to support a groundbreaking paper on Dubai’s role in global patterns of tax avoidance. The paper presents a comprehensive analysis of property ownership in Dubai to estimate the value of aggregate real estate owned by nationality group, and to analyze country-level patterns. Their findings provide new understanding of hidden wealth in one of the world’s largest offshore financial centers.
  2. C4ADS also provided data from our Dubai property database to a consortium of 25 journalists in 19 countries to enable their independent investigations. These examinations have exposed and revealed the overseas holdings of public officials, alleged perpetrators of international crime, sanctions evaders, and more.

Now, we’re proud to share more updates to that work. This year, we’ve partnered with 72 journalistic outlets across 70 countries to enable further investigative reporting on the ways in which illicit networks rely on Dubai to hide and launder their ill-gotten wealth.

Interested in collaborating with us on a project where our data may be useful? Email [email protected].

Publications We Supported in 2024 #

Keep an eye on this page — we’re updating this map in real-time as new articles and stories are published by coalition members!

Disclaimer #

C4ADS assesses this data to be credible, with the caveat that it does not constitute evidence of the same quality and standard as a property deed, a form of official documentation strictly controlled in the UAE as confidential information. The mention of any individual, company, organization, or entity in this dataset does not imply the violation of any law or international agreement.