Dubai is a marina for the Russian oligarchs… a paradise for dirty money laundering

Dubai is a favorite destination for Russian rich after Western sanctions (Getty)

The United States is silent on the efforts of the UAE, Israel and other countries, to a lesser extent, to weaken the sanctions against Russia, but it appears that the silence will not last long, and there are indications that the issue may leading to a confrontation between Washington and Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv.

Diplomats believe that it will not be too late for the United States to pressure the UAE and Israel to confiscate and freeze Russian assets, and it cannot remain indifferent to the movement of Western public opinion against businessmen close to the Kremlin, such as Oleg Deripaska, whose house in London was occupied by protesters.

And at a time when the countries of Europe are seeing the influx of tens of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the hell of the Russian war, Dubai and Israel are opening the doors to businessmen and owners of great wealth who are friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin with all comfort.

And US Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland issued something of a warning to Israel: “We don’t want this to become the last resort for dirty money aimed at financing Putin’s wars,” while the first strong reaction against the UAE comes from the general meeting of the “Financial Action Group.” (FATF), held last March from 1 to 4, which placed the UAE on the “grey list” of countries to be monitored for illegal financing for a full year, to “prevent money laundering,” and the organization ‘s report gave a classification Low for money laundering investigation and prosecution, and medium for preventive measures.

The group said the UAE authorities need to plug loopholes in the real estate and precious metals sectors, which money launderers can exploit. It leaked from the meeting atmosphere that if the UAE fails to make improvements to its financial system, it could find itself alongside countries such as Syria, Yemen and Pakistan, which the organization considers to be suffering from “strategic deficiencies.”

It is estimated that the United States may choose to go further, such as by restricting the UAE’s access to the international financial system, or by imposing additional sanctions on certain companies or financial institutions.

And this move to the Emirates took place after photos of private jets and yachts owned by businessmen from the Russian president’s inner circle began to appear on the pages of Western newspapers, anchored in Dubai airports and ports, after leaving escaped custody. under the penal laws imposed by the United States on these. The class known as the “oligarchy”, a group of billionaires whose number does not exceed fifty, unite that they are close to Putin, control part of the Russian economy , and has large investments abroad, especially in France and Britain.

Among the superyacht Madame Gu, worth $156 million, is owned by Andrei Skoch, a Russian businessman and member of the State Duma, who is subject to US and European sanctions.

Not far away, in Port Rashid, another yacht, “Nirvana”, is moored, belonging to what is known in the Western press as the unsanctioned nickel metal tycoon, Vladimir Potanin. A third yacht, “Titan”, costs $82 million and is owned by businessman and steel magnate Alexander Abramov.

According to ship tracking service data, several other smaller yachts belonging to Russian businessmen have been seen docking at Dubai ports. Including two other yachts, Sea & Us, worth $58 million, and Anatoly Sedykh, worth $73 million.

Port Rashid belongs to the Dubai government, which also owns another yacht marina popular with Russian billionaires, Porto Montenegro in Montenegro, through the Investment Corporation of Dubai.

Like the smuggling of yachts to Dubai, the emirate has become a preferred landing strip for private jets owned by Russian oligarchs. Western newspapers reported that four private planes belonging to billionaires subject to international sanctions landed in Dubai, namely Roman Abramovich, Arkady Rotenberg, Viktor Rashnikov and Mikhail Gutseriev, and were tracked in Dubai or Abu Dhabi in February and March.

The newly registered plane in Dubai was on its way to Dubai World Central (DWC), the city’s newest airport and an alternative to Dubai International, where the vast majority of scheduled flights land. Dubbed the “airport of the future” by state-owned Dubai Airports, this airport is still a work in progress, and the only passenger flights it currently receives appear to be seasonal charter flights provided by four Russian airlines from a variety of Russian cities.

Some yachts and planes have moved from Israel to Dubai, and newspaper news does not stop at planes and yachts. Rather, there is a lot of talk about large deals made by real estate companies with rich Russians, who prefer to live in villas in the Jumeirah Bay area.

While these people benefit from the relations that Israel has become with the Emirates, which guarantees their presence in the Emirates, is that this country has refused to apply international sanctions to Russia, and is not fully committed to international banking procedures for the transfer of funds, and therefore they have no worries about their investments. In this country and stay for a long time.

And the matter does not stop with the billionaires who started buying very expensive houses, but there are men of medium caliber who do not compete with the big whales, and they are satisfied with renting luxury houses. The New York Times reported that one of them rented a house for $15,000 a month.

These businessmen amassed their fortunes during the 1990s and the first decade of the twenty-first century, and because some of them are pillars of the Russian economy or close to Putin, they are an easy target for the US and European sanctions.

These people come to Dubai to live after losing their premises in London, Paris, Italy and Germany, either because they own assets, companies and houses in the Emirates or to establish new companies, and others buy real estate there.

Still others trade between the UAE and Russia, or dock at the ports of Tel Aviv and Dubai, or use the airports for return flights from the Russian capital, which is five hours from Dubai. All are seeking to circumvent financial restrictions, to compensate for the turmoil in the ruble, protect their wealth and prevent their assets from being frozen.

What Dubai is doing is not a spur of the moment, but rather comes in the context of a strategic direction for the emirate for a long time, and therefore the entry of funds, without internationally recognized controls, represents no problem.

For decades, the UAE has been viewed by international organizations concerned with transparency as a haven for suspicious money, and these organizations say that the UAE has previously hosted Iran, North Korea and figures from the Syrian regime of the Assad and Makhlouf families and Venezuela allowed. to avoid international sanctions, since the 1990s, and within this environment Tourism and Russian settlement have been encouraged, and it is estimated that between 40,000 and 60,000 Russians currently live in the UAE and benefit from administrative facilities such as exemption of tourist visas, or obtaining residence through investments, and there is information circulating that at least 76 properties are owned by Putin’s relatives in Dubai.

Some of these Russian billionaires are dual citizens, Russian-Israelis, some of them Jewish, who acquired Israeli citizenship in the last 20 years and see Israel as a refuge in difficult times. Newcomers among them in particular benefit from a law that allows them not to disclose their income for a period of 10 years.

The French researcher Sebastien Bossuis, a doctor of political sciences and author of the book “The Emirates to Conquer the World,” is not optimistic about the possibility of applying international sanctions to the Emirates, commenting on the results of the “FATF” meeting by saying: “It will be very difficult because Westerners have common interests with the UAE, starting with France, which has large military contracts… and none of the international powers are ready at this stage not for pressure.”

He explains the issue: “In fact, the UAE accepts everyone as long as there is a lot of capital. They have made a habit of circumventing money laundering and international sanctions,” explaining that there are many countries and leaders who have benefited from the UAE’s “big launderer” to hide corruption or circumvent sanctions. .

With dozens of free zones in which companies can be established, with endless real estate projects to invest in discreetly, with lodging and accommodation facilities available to investors, and very limited international judicial cooperation in the pursuit of illegal flows, Dubai remains a favorite destination for the Russian nouveau riche.Therefore, it now forms an “exit door” for Russia, which is suffocated by American and European sanctions, because the UAE has become significantly closer to Russia in recent years, due to the US withdrawal from the region.

The financial ties between the UAE and Russia run deep. Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Corporation has invested $3.6 billion in 50 Russian companies from 2022. At least two of these investments, worth about $400 million, are linked to sanctioned Russian billionaires, and last December Mubadala acquired $1.9 million. Mubadala spent $175 million. to buy 2.6% of En+ Group, a publicly traded aluminum company whose largest shareholder is sanctioned billionaire Oleg Deripaska.

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