Dubai properties

Published May 16, 2024

DUBAI, with all its glitter and glamour, has long been a destination of choice for wealthy individuals looking to expand their property portfolio abroad. As a high-income developing market economy, as well as a ‘brotherly’ Muslim state, many Pakistanis see it as an attractive destination to live and put down some roots in.

At the same time, however, the emirate seems to have become a haven for those looking to hide their wealth — whether lawfully or unlawfully acquired — away from the taxman’s watchful eyes. This concern has long been held by Pakistani authorities, who, insiders confirm, have tried on multiple occasions to get information on properties owned by Pakistani nationals in the emirate but have been turned down each time.

Now, a trove of leaked data, reported on for the first time by Dawn and 74 other media outlets in 58 different countries, shines an unprecedented light on who owns what in a place often referred to as a playground for the rich.

The ‘Dubai Unlocked’ data, a consolidation of property ownership information till 2022, was recently made the subject of an international investigation. According to data seen by Pakistani journalists, their compatriots came second in terms of the combined number and value of properties held by foreign nationals in the state. For a country that can barely keep its head above water, this is a startling fact.

Many individuals who have been part of present or past governments, individuals known to be associated with them, as well as several military generals were found to be in ownership of properties worth millions in Dubai — a revelation that is unlikely to sit well with the struggling masses, who generally view power with suspicion. In a country where mega-corruption scandals are all too familiar, questions will follow.

Of course, many of the properties owned by Pakistanis may have been acquired lawfully, and the state must not harass ordinary citizens about where they want to spend their money. At the same time, the authorities have a responsibility to approach the C4ADS and OCCRP, which are in possession of the Dubai data, and ask for it to be shared so that they may determine if any criminals, politically exposed or sanctioned persons are on the Dubai property register.

The FBR chairman has told Dawn that the authority will, once it gets access to this data, ensure that all tax evaders are caught. It is hoped that any investigation that is conducted will be fair and that no wrongdoing will be excused, regardless of how much favour any of the culprits enjoy in the current political configuration.

An opportunity has been provided to close the net around powerful elements. It must be seized.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2024

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