Dubai Marina — Photo by Ole Martin Wold.

The emirate’s dark underbelly

Individuals accused of heinous crimes in Pakistan have stashed ill-gotten gains in Dubai, including family members of Rao Anwar.
Published May 16, 2024

ONE of Pakistan’s most notorious cops, Rao Anwar, reputed to be an ‘encounter specialist’ whom the US and UK placed on their sanctions lists for having committed serious human rights abuses, made 74 trips to Dubai within a span of some six years.

As senior superintendent of police, his salary was a modest Rs95,000 per month. And yet the Dubai property leaks, that came to the fore on May 14 in a global investigation led by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the Norwegian financial outlet E24, show his family members as listed owners. The leaked data provides a detailed overview of hundreds of thousands of properties in Dubai and information about their ownership or usage, largely from 2020 and 2022. It was obtained by the Center for Advanced Defence Studies (C4ADS), a non-profit organisation based in Washington, D.C., that researches international crime and conflict.

Rao’s wife’s name shows in the data linked to five properties. Two of these properties are listed as jointly owned with the couple’s son. Dawn can confirm that Ms Ahmed still owns a two-bedroom apar­tment in Executive-Resid­e­nces-2 in Dubai Hills Est­a­­­te, which was bought in late 2021 for nearly half a million dollars and put on rent for one year for $44,923 (calculated at the current exchange rate of 3.6 dirham to a dollar). She also currently owns an offi­­ce space in Exchange Tow­er, Bu­­si­­ness Bay, that was purchased for $213,452 in 2018 and has been ren­t­­ed out. As a Dubai resident, Ms Ahmed is not liable to pay taxes on it.

Six million-dollar villa

Two other properties for which Rao Anwar’s spouse appears as listed owner in the leaks, have since been sold. They include an apartment, valued at $1.48m in 2021 and a three-bedroom villa valued at $408,000 in 2022.

Aside from these, Ms Ahmed is also linked to a six-bedroom villa in the upscale Hadaeq Sheikh Mohammed Rashid. Tra­ns­action data for this property, which seems to be under construction, shows a single purchase made on May 30, 2023, a “delayed sell” which indicates it is, or was, being paid for in installments. According to the transaction data, the market value of the villa is a whopping $6.67m.

Individuals accused of heinous crimes in Pakistan have stashed ill-gotten gains in Dubai

Back in Pakistan, it was well known that Rao’s job in law enforcement was only a side gig for him. There was a fortune to be made from running a protection racket, land-grabbing, illegal sand and gravel (reti bajri) lifting for the construction business, smuggling of Iranian petrol, vice dens, narcotics and illegal water hydrants. And, allegedly, murder.

Killing fields of Karachi

According to the police’s own records, Rao had been involved in 745 ‘encounters’ between 2011 and 2018 that had killed at least 444 people. However, Rao’s willingness to do the bidding of powerful quarters enabled him to continue wreaking mayhem with utter impunity in Karachi’s Malir district, where he was posted SSP.

It was the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in 2018 and the public furore it unleashed, that finally brought Rao’s reign of terror to a halt. However, trial court proceedings against him dragged on for five years; he was acquitted last year and the matter is now in appeal. Naqeeb­ullah’s father died in 2019, still waiting for justice for his son. Rao, meanwhile, can live out his retirement years in all the luxury that his real estate investments in Dubai, through his wife, afford him.

Dr Mukhtar Hamid Shah, who earned infamy as an organ trafficker and was on a US sanctions list for that reason, is listed owner of nine properties in Dubai, worth millions of dollars, in the leaked data. They were sold between July and October 2019, presumably by his heirs, following his death the same year.

Among Dr Mukhtar’s listed properties was a four-bedroom villa in Wadi Al Safa, an area where according to a property website, many houses have private pools and large gardens. Bought in August 2007, the available data shows that this villa generated a rental income of $91,208 from 2016 to 2018. He also owned two three-bedroom villas in Mira, a sub-community within Reem, a master project by Emaar. Both were bought within a month of each other in late 2014 for a total of $899,500. In some cases, the rental data goes back only a few years. It shows that each of the villas mentioned above generated a rental income of $38,117 between 2017 and 2018. Dr Mukhtar also owned six one-bedroom apartments in pricey residential projects, such as Old Town which lies in the shadow of the iconic Burj Khalifa.

Even the extre­mely limited rental data available for the years that Dr Mukhtar appears as listed owner shows that the total income generated by all the above properties was no less than $512,591. In other words: Rs142,606,319.

During the years that Dr Mukhtar, a retired colonel, was acquiring his portfolio of expensive real estate in Dubai, he was allegedly running an illegal organ trafficking operation from his Rawalpindi hospital, the Kidney Centre. ‘Agents’ affiliated with his hospital (and others too) would scour poverty-stricken rural areas in central Punjab and locate desperate individuals, often bonded labourers, willing to sell a kidney for Rs250,000 ($900). After the operation, they would be sent home with a handful of painkillers and no medical advice on post-operative precautions.

Boom in vended organs

Although Pakistan was once known as an ‘organ bazaar’, commercial transplants were criminalised through an ordinance in 2007 followed by legislation against the practice in 2010. By 2014, however, weak implementation of the law had led to a boom in vended organs, with the Kidney Centre the most brazen offender. ‘Trans­plant tourism’, a term used to describe people visiting Pakistan to undergo transplantation with organs pu­­rchased on the black market, became wildly lucrative with each such operation costing the patient around $100,000 at the time. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Dr Mukhtar made his biggest one-time investment in Dubai real estate — the two villas in Mira and an apartment — around this period.

The Kidney Centre was the target of several police raids. Dr Mu­­khtar along with his son Dr Tau­se­ef was arrested following the shocking discovery in October 2016 of 24 individuals being held against their will in an apartment for the purpose of harvesting their organs. After his plea for pre-arr­est bail was rejected, Dr Mukhtar was sent behind bars in early February 2017, only to be granted bail a few weeks later. Dr Tauseef was again arrested along with his brother Dr Zahid Mukhtar last year for allegedly carrying out illegal transplants, but the case against him was later dropped.

Dr Tauseef is currently the owner of a one-bedroom apartment in Al Thanyah Fifth. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2024

Header image: Dubai Marina — Photo by Ole Martin Wold.