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Dubai Authorities Directly Involved in Major Money Laundering Schemes

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The Dubai Unlocked investigation, which has been causing a stir in global media for several days, exposed the government’s direct involvement in extensive money laundering crimes in Dubai and assistance to a money laundering network in Singapore.

According to leaked data from the investigation, three individuals were arrested during a raid on a money laundering network in Singapore, having invested more than $30 million in Dubai real estate.

The investigation revealed that one of the suspects, who was wanted in China at the time, was backing a real estate broker who became the primary sales agent for the city’s largest real estate developer, partially owned by Dubai’s ruler and UAE Vice President, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

In a clear sign that the ambitious young real estate brokerage Fidu Properties has made its mark in Dubai, the company’s logo has been placed along the Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the world.

In 2019, Fidu achieved a remarkable milestone, experiencing rapid growth since its establishment just two years earlier. Its collaboration with Emaar Properties, Dubai’s largest real estate development company, partially owned by the investment entity of the Ruler of Dubai, played a significant role in its success.

Just months after establishing its Dubai office in 2018, Fidu and Emaar sealed a $100 million agreement on The Grand, one of the developer’s upscale projects at Dubai Creek Harbour, as per media accounts.

By 2019, projects built by Emaar accounted for at least 90 percent of Fidu Properties’ sales, according to Vido’s press releases.

According to press releases from Fidu, by 2019, Emaar projects constituted a minimum of 90 percent of Fidu Properties’ sales.

Yet in August of the previous year, Su Jianfeng, the central figure linked to Fidu, was detained in Singapore amidst a dramatic crackdown on an alleged money laundering operation, resulting in the seizure of assets valued at over $2.2 billion.

Singaporean police have charged 10 people with laundering proceeds from illegal online gambling and scams across Southeast Asia. Su Jianfeng was also the subject of a 2017 Chinese arrest warrant on charges of illegal gambling.

Six of the detainees have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced, with Su Jianfeng being detained in Singapore awaiting trial.

An investigation by OCCRP and The Straits Times, based on leaked real estate data from Dubai, reveals that Su Jianfeng and two other people arrested in the money laundering case invested more than $30 million in Dubai real estate, through projects mostly developed by Emaar and brokered by Fidu.

Three other people implicated in the case possess properties valued at over $40 million collectively. One individual shared an address with two others who, akin to Su Jianfeng, are sought by Chinese authorities for involvement in illicit gambling activities, and they also hold substantial real estate holdings in Dubai.

Although the Singapore crisis has garnered extensive media attention, there has been no prior reporting on real estate acquisitions in Dubai. As OCCRP proceeded to confront Su Jianfeng, six additional fraud charges were filed, including accusations relating to five Dubai properties, three of which are referenced in the leaked documents.

Collectively, the discovered purchases include more than 100 properties, purchased for more than $100 million in total, according to the leaked data.

They include full-floor units in Grand Downtown, a luxury skyscraper opposite the Burj Khalifa, worth at least $47 million. All purchases were made between October 2019 and October 2020.

Benedict Hoffmann, deputy representative for Southeast Asia at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said that while such “large-scale real estate investments” are not “automatically linked to money laundering,” they “can definitely be a red flag.”

Many of the properties identified by journalists were in Emaar’s other flagship projects in Downtown Dubai, The Grand at Dubai Creek Harbour, which were advertised and marketed by Fidu Properties.

The investments raise questions about whether Dubai’s light-hearted approach to due diligence allowed members of the alleged money laundering network to move suspicious funds to real estate in Dubai.

Alex Cobham, chair of financial transparency campaign group Tax Justice Network, said regulators should have a “requirement to identify the source of funds”. Since 2019, property owners in Dubai have been legally obligated to conduct anti-money laundering risk assessments.

Although Cobham acknowledged that the association with Su Jianfeng and Fidu might pose embarrassment for Emaar and consequently for the ruler of Dubai, he suggested that this issue could motivate enhancements to systems within the emirate.

Cobham added: “The royal family is arguably [the victim of] the complete failure of any regulatory standard, and the bad press that that generates. Either way, they have to change this, because they preside over the entire system.”