As the Rajapaksas escape Sri Lanka, the Pandora Papers disclose their links to UAE real estate
Gotabaya Rajapaksa chose the United Arab Emirates as his preferred destination when he sought to depart Sri Lanka this week, highlighting the Rajapaksa family’s links to the Persian Gulf financial centre.
On Tuesday, CNN claimed that demonstrators prevented Rajapaksa and several of his family, including a former finance minister, from boarding aircraft to Dubai, the commercial hub of the United Arab Emirates.
Rajapaksa was supposed to quit today, but instead, he took a military plane to the Maldives, with some media outlets predicting that he may later travel to Dubai.
The vast wealth of the Rajapaksa family, which has dominated the country’s politics for nearly two decades, has become a flashpoint in the massive protests that have engulfed Sri Lanka since March, as the country faces critical shortages of fuel, medicines, and other goods, in part due to years of mismanagement of state funds.
A succession of high-level political resignations further alienated the president and his brother, the then-prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The culmination of the enormous rallies was hundreds of demonstrators storming the presidential and prime ministerial residences on Saturday, partying at the estates and torching the latter on previous days.
A global investigation into offshore financing headed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists discovered the hidden riches of several Rajapaksa family members in the fall of 2015. The records indicated that Nirupama Rajapaksa, a member of the royal family, and her husband, businessman Thirukumar Nadesan, had utilised shell companies and trusts to amass more than $18 million in tax havens, as well as to acquire artworks and luxury houses in London and Sydney.
The Pandora Papers, which 14 offshore service firms released, reveal that the pair have hidden links to UAE properties.
The breach of 11.9 million sensitive data included energy bills, a UAE resident identification card, and other documents indicating that Nadesan, his wife, and their two children were Dubai residents as of 2019. The paperwork links them to an apartment in a premium residential building, although they do not specify if the family is the owner.
In an application to create a bank account for one of his shell firms, Nadesan cited another Dubai address as his domicile in 2016, when he was identified in the papers as the manager of a Dubai-based asphalt merchant.
Nirupama Rajapaksa is connected to both Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Mahinda, who, throughout the years, have alternated top positions, including president and prime minister, until both were recently forced to resign due to the economic crisis.
The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption launched an investigation after the Pandora Papers exposed the couple’s offshore holdings in October of last year. President Rajapaksa announced his government would investigate the matter, and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption began the investigation. According to Sri Lankan media, the investigation was halted because banks were slow to provide information on Nadesan and Nirupama Rajapaksa’s bank accounts.
Sri Lankan press stated that she had been to Dubai at least once since then. According to the stolen data, their son stays in the emirate and frequently flaunts his opulent lifestyle in the Gulf in Instagram pictures.
A blog has photographs of a young man dining on a rooftop against the Dubai skyline at night.
After other offshore jurisdictions adopted tighter rules in response to demand from the international community, the UAE has become a favourite destination for oligarchs and criminals seeking to conceal their money in recent years.
As part of the Pandora Papers investigation, ICIJ documented how the confederation of seven sheikdoms provides shell companies that conceal their true owners’ identities, dozens of internal free-trade zones that provide even more shadows for them to hide in, and a regulatory system known for what anti-corruption advocates call its “ask-no-questions, see-no-evil approach” to dealing with money tied to gold smuggling, arms trafficking, and other crimes.
Sri Lankan power couples accumulated expensive residences, artworks, and cash overseas as the royal family became prominent.
The EU Tax Observatory, a think tank, estimates that around 27 percent of Dubai’s real estate market is held by foreigners, including people from conflict-ridden and dictatorial nations.
In 2020, at least 408 Sri Lankan citizens owned 590 Dubai homes for a total of $205 million, according to a research by the Observatory based on secret property data.
In March, the world’s leading anti-money laundering agency placed the United Arab Emirates on its “grey list” of nations requiring more surveillance. The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force stated that the nation must enhance its capacity to investigate high-risk money laundering concerns and demonstrate a “sustained improvement” in successful investigations and prosecutions of money laundering.
Investigators employed by previous Sri Lankan administrations, which temporarily replaced the Rajapaksas’ reign between 2015 and 2019, accused members of the Rajapaksa family and their friends of hiding hundreds of millions of dollars in bank accounts in Dubai. They have disputed the charges.