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The Times: UK Crime Lords Stealthily Poured Millions into UAE Ventures


According to The British newspaper, The Times, crime leaders in the UK covertly funneled millions of pounds into the UAE by buying high-end real estate in Dubai, with some investments being made even from behind bars.
A Times investigation said more than £200 million of property in Dubai was bought by criminals convicted in British courts and people who failed to pay debts in the UK.
The newspaper reported that in some cases, it appears that the British authorities failed to find these properties when trying to trace the origins of the criminals.
Among those who have recently invested in Dubai, real estate are an Essex fraudster who swindled elderly victims out of their life savings and criminals associated with a gang that embezzled £12 million from the NHS and other UK public institutions.
Another British criminal, Abid Hussain, managed to buy £1.6m worth of property in Dubai in the months after he was jailed in 2013 to launder the proceeds of drug deals, records show.
Following his trial, the National Crime Agency (NCA) sought to seize his assets and the court made a confiscation order for £313,000, which he repaid.
Property records reviewed by The Times indicate that these purchases represented only a fraction of his wealth. He acquired two apartments in Dubai, valued at £1.2 million, while incarcerated at Wellstone Prison in West Yorkshire.
The British government is now facing calls to investigate why the authorities have failed to find the origins of criminals abroad.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow prosecutor, said there should be an “urgent review of the loopholes in the system”, adding: “The idea that a convicted criminal could do these types of property deals from prison makes a mockery of the asset recovery system, and we must see urgent action from… The government is responding to this.”
The findings come from a data leak from Dubai, including detailed property ownership, transactions, and rental records.
The Times, along with other international media outlets across 58 countries, extensively analyzed the data after it was provided by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a network of journalists, and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, a nonprofit focused on security issues.
Fifty-seven individuals, including convicted British citizens and foreigners convicted in the UK, along with 105 British or UK bankrupts, disqualified directors, tax evaders, and persons under investigation, were identified as property buyers in the UAE.
The data does not contain details about the source of funds used to purchase the property, and the properties may have been purchased with legitimate funds.
The newspaper highlighted that Dubai is attractive to investors who do not want to face public scrutiny for many reasons, including those with prominent features and net worth who do not want to announce details about their private homes.
Police forces and NCA investigators have powers to seek to seize the proceeds of crime through the courts. In light of the findings, police said they are investigating and may try to recover more money from the criminals.
Successive British governments have pledged to work closely with authorities in the UAE to address “global challenges” including how to ensure strong checks on cross-border money flows.
In September 2021, Boris Johnson, then Prime Minister, announced the latest of these agreements after a meeting in London with Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE.
The NCA affirmed that during its investigations, it maintained awareness of all properties owned by criminals in Dubai, which were relevant to confiscation procedures and factored into endeavors to reclaim funds. Additionally, it noted that confiscation orders could be fulfilled using any assets belonging to the individual in question, potentially leaving them with other properties if they comply with payment requirements.
In Hussain’s situation, the forfeiture order aligned with the sum he was determined to have personally gained from his illegal activities. Law enforcement did not press charges against assets unrelated to the proceeds of crime.
A spokesperson noted that the agency maintained favorable ties with numerous international allies who assisted in tracing criminals’ origins. They highlighted enhanced cooperation with the United Arab Emirates, which had notably improved in recent years and surpassed cooperation levels with some other nations.
He added: “We realize that there is much more to be done together and we continue to strengthen efforts to combat the threat of illicit financing that harms both our countries.”
The Dubai Land Registry is famous for its secrecy. Although in recent years the emirate has taken steps towards greater transparency, it is still not possible to find out who owns a property by looking up an address alone.
The Dubai property data was shared with The Times by a global network of investigative journalists who specialize in uncovering corruption and organized crime.
The records include detailed information about Dubai property ownership, related transactions, and rental income.
Journalists conducted thorough investigations to verify the information, cross-referencing details with publicly accessible sources such as Interpol notices, criminal conviction records, sanctions lists, corporate wrongdoing data, and due diligence reports.
Among the property owners in Dubai are numerous individuals with criminal backgrounds, including fugitives, tax evaders, and individuals subject to sanctions in both the UK and other nations. A significant portion of these individuals are either British nationals or have substantial connections to the UK.
Sami Raja, a fraudster from Grays, Essex, who used Instagram to flaunt his wealth, is among the convicted criminals who own property in Dubai.
In 2019, Raja was found guilty on six charges related to conspiracy to defraud and money laundering. Collaborating with four others, he employed cold fraud tactics to deceive 130 victims into purchasing counterfeit carbon credits, resulting in the gang accumulating £2.4 million in illicit profits.
During proceedings at Southwark Crown Court, it was revealed that they specifically aimed at individuals over the age of 50 in prosperous neighborhoods. One of their victims included an 89-year-old British man who was defrauded of £250,000 by Raja and his associates.
Raja was first arrested in 2013 but the complex investigation took years to reach court. Despite pleading not guilty in February 2017, he evaded authorities and fled to Dubai in December of the same year, just a fortnight before his trial was scheduled to commence.
Raja, now 37 years old, shared images on social media showcasing his luxurious lifestyle in Dubai and a Maldives resort, flaunting designer items such as Rolex watches and an Aston Martin.
In January 2019, he was convicted in absentia and received an eight-year prison sentence. During a vacation in Greece in July 2020, he was apprehended and extradited to the UK to fulfill his sentence. Additionally, he was mandated to compensate his victims with £332,000.
UAE real estate data shows that Raja was able to purchase two properties in Dubai Marina and Al Khor Port in 2016 and 2017, after his initial arrest.
It was sold in December 2022 for around £650,000, double the amount he was asked to pay. The Times does not know the source of the money used to purchase these properties.
The City of London Police acknowledged their awareness of Raja’s property holdings in Dubai. Raja settled the entire amount specified in the confiscation order, and all reclaimed funds were allocated to the victims.
Raja has been incarcerated at Brixton Prison, classified as a Category C facility located in south London. Scheduled for parole release this year, attempts have been made to reach out to him for a comment.
The UAE, an authoritarian monarchy, has historically been financed by revenues from its oil trade but is trying to diversify its economy by encouraging foreign investment in real estate.
Imtiaz Khoda is one of the British criminals who managed to invest in Dubai.
Khoda, now 51, was part of a gang that swindled more than £12 million from the NHS, local governments, and social housing providers.
Property records show he bought or placed payments on 11 properties in Dubai while claiming in a British court that he could not fully repay the money he made from his crimes.
Khoda and his partners fabricated letters, faxes, and emails to impersonate a credible construction and development firm, channeling payments from multiple public entities to their accounts.
The gang was arrested after a Lincolnshire NHS trust discovered that a £1.28 million payment to build a mental health and rehabilitation unit had disappeared in 2011.
Khoda admitted conspiracy to launder the proceeds of criminal conduct at Leicester Crown Court in 2016 and was jailed the following year for four-and-a-half years.
After his conviction, in April 2019, he was given three months to pay back just over £4 million.
By August 2019, Khoda had repaid just £212,217 and applied to court for more time. The request was denied, and given that he did not pay, nearly ten years of imprisonment were added to his sentence.
Khoda has since been released without repaying the majority of the money. Police said he succeeded in court last year in obtaining a “significant reduction” in the amount owed as “it was agreed that the asset was no longer available”.
Data obtained by The Times suggests that at the time he made his first leniency application in 2019, Khuda had purchased or placed payments on 11 properties in Dubai worth around £3.6m.
At least five of these properties, worth a total of around £420,000, have since been sold.
Another individual implicated alongside Khuda, Tariq Saeed Khan, aged 41 and residing in Ilford, east London, is similarly documented as holding stakes in six properties valued at £3.2 million in Dubai as of 2022.
Khan was found not guilty of money laundering during the trial. However, he received an eight-month prison sentence and was instructed to reimburse £20,000 to the Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust after confessing to obstructing justice by furnishing law enforcement with falsified documents.
Documents show he still owns at least two of these properties. The Times does not know the source of the money that financed Khuda and Khan’s investments.
Hussain received a two-year prison sentence for laundering money obtained from drug transactions through the bank accounts of unsuspecting individuals. He was a member of a group that laundered £19 million on behalf of international criminals.
Property records from the UAE indicate that in September 2013, during Hussain’s incarceration at Wellstone, a Category C prison near Wetherby, West Yorkshire, he acquired two upscale properties in Dubai valued at £1.1 million. These apartments are situated in the Standpoint complex, near the Burj Khalifa.
Hussain then bought a third flat in the same complex shortly after his release from prison in January 2014, taking the value of his portfolio to £1.7m. Information available to The Times does not include any details on the source of the funds used.
Hussain, now 56, has since taken in another £381,000 in rental income from the flats, according to property records. He still owns the three properties in Dubai.
In 2016, the NCA secured a confiscation order against Hussain totaling £313,000, reflecting the proceeds earned from his illicit endeavors. Hussain promptly settled the full amount.
A spokesperson for Hussain stated that he is unaware of any such accusations or investigations and denies ownership of the mentioned properties in the UAE.
Meanwhile, Hamilton mentioned that he had not been in touch with Hussein for over a decade and stated that during his court testimony, “I believed he was genuinely involved in community activities.” Reflecting on the Downing Street visit, he remarked, “Looking back, extending an invitation to Mr. Hussein was an unfortunate decision.”
The NCA said law enforcement has no charge for non-criminal assets or criminal profits.
Mohamed Suleiman Tahir, a diamond thief who swindled companies out of £800,000 worth of goods, was sentenced to three years in prison in January 2006. However, he managed to escape in December of the same year after going to a hospital appointment.
Four years after he escaped from Sudbury Prison, a Category D prison in Derbyshire, documents show he bought a flat in Dubai for around £200,000, which he still appears to own.
Tahir admitted to conspiring to defraud the creditors of Scents and Sensuality Ltd, a perfume company, after shutting it down while still owing suppliers for perfume and two diamond shipments.
He was jailed and ordered to repay £1 million but has not been seen since his escape. Greater Manchester Police said it had previously seized assets from him and would now investigate whether further recoveries could be made.
This year, the Financial Action Task Force, an international organization that monitors the enforcement of money laundering regulations, removed the UAE from its “grey list.”
The UAE has been on the list since 2022 because the watchdog deemed it had deficiencies in the way it handled the flow of money into the country.
Although the country has made some significant improvements to the way it deals with financial crime, Dubai’s real estate record suggests that criminal funds can still get in very easily.
SVT, the Swedish national broadcaster, which also obtained access to Dubai’s property registry, reported that its correspondent had reached out to a real estate agent employed by one of the largest developers in the Emirates.
The report said that the agent expressed willingness to accept “bags of cash” totaling £21 million for purchasing a property and assured that he would ask “zero questions” about the money’s source.
The Times reported that the relative ease of investing in Dubai property while maintaining anonymity makes it appealing to investors with legitimate funds who wish to avoid public scrutiny for various reasons.
This includes those with high profiles and net worth who do not want to advertise their investments for privacy reasons.
The same ease of investment also means that it is attractive to investors who struggle to meet money laundering checks in more stringent jurisdictions and this presents issues for national enforcement bodies.
Although Dubai’s property registry has become publicly searchable in recent years, access is limited to those with specific transaction details, such as lawyers. It remains impossible to identify property owners simply by searching the Dubai registry with an address.
Other convicted criminals who The Times found had bought property in Dubai include Munir Akhtar, from Cantlie, South Yorkshire, who in 2010 was convicted of seven fraud offenses with fake mortgage applications and sentenced to two years in prison.
Despite evidence showing that Akhtar profited £1.8 million from the fraud, the court in 2011 approved a confiscation order for only £61,000, reflecting the assets discovered. According to The Times, he paid this amount in full.
UAE records show that by 2013, Akhtar had bought a three-bedroom apartment on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah for £250,000 and that he has since received a further £220,000 to let it out.
Upon being informed by reporters about the property in Dubai, South Yorkshire Police reportedly referred the case to the regional asset recovery team to investigate the possibility of recovering additional funds from Akhtar.
Bashar Al-Safi, a cocaine dealer, attempted to smuggle £32 million of the drug into the UK with an accomplice in June 2016. The cocaine was hidden inside root vegetables from Costa Rica, and transported by a company called Fruity Fresh.
Al-Safi, now 34, was sentenced to 21 years in prison in 2021. Dubai data shows he bought land in Dubai’s Jebel Ali area worth £360,000 in July 2016, shortly after his arrest.
He is serving his sentence at High Point Prison, a Category C prison near Newmarket, Suffolk.
Khaddam Hussain, a former Conservative council member, was jailed for nine years in 2014 for sophisticated fraud against the Home Office involving around 100 immigration cases.
The fraud overseen by Hussain involved submitting applicant visas backed by a range of false documents from lawyers, estate agents, and potential employers.
The fraud overseen by Hussain involved submitting applicant visas backed by a range of false documents from lawyers, estate agents, and potential employers.
In 2018, the former Bradford businessman and politician was ordered to repay £1 million under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
He claimed to have only earned £60,000 from the scam but the confiscation order stated he had assets in Britain and Dubai.
Dubai property records reveal that Hussain and his wife Zahida bought properties worth £1 million in Dubai, mostly between May and July 2009. The family still owns at least four of the properties. The source of the funds used to purchase the properties is unknown.
The Home Office was unable to confirm whether Hussein had paid any of the money, saying it did not have that record information given the amount of time that had passed. Hussein has been contacted for comment.
Records also show that Dubai’s current landlords include a money launderer from east London who was jailed in 2016 for five-and-a-half years.
Catherine Westmore, a senior research fellow at the Center for Finance and Security at the Royal United Services Institute, characterized Dubai authorities’ inadequate scrutiny of property buyers as a “substantial threat to the national security of the UK.”
She further commented, “It is yet uncertain whether the UAE has genuinely addressed its issues or if authorities will persist in permitting the real estate sector to be a conduit for money laundering.”
A spokesperson from the NCA stated, “The process of asset recovery with international partners can be complicated, particularly due to varying legal frameworks and the necessity to gather intelligence and evidence across diverse jurisdictions.”
The agency said the forfeiture orders were for amounts of money, not specific assets, and if the criminals could settle the orders with other funds, they would not need to hand over the property.
She also said that although the British authorities have powers to seize property believed to be the proceeds of crime with a civil standard of proof, the UAE has not recognized it.