FeaturedNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 27

Dubai leaks: some unanswered questions

Dubai Leaks, an internationally coordinated investigative report, has confirmed what has been believed for years: that Pakistanis own thousands of properties worth billions of dollars in Dubai. The investigative report titled ‘Dubai Unlocked’ has revealed details of over 23,000 properties belonging to Pakistani nationals up to the spring of 2022. These include political figures, former military men, bankers and bureaucrats.

The leaked data was compiled by the Center for Advanced Defence Studies (C4ADS), a non-profit organisation based in Washington, D.C., that researches international crime and conflict, with the help of 75 media outlets from 58 countries.

About 17,000 Pakistani citizens are listed as owners of high value properties in Dubai Leaks but experts believe that there are many more Pakistanis who own residential and commercial property in Dubai and other countries. Dubai is a global financial hub which describes itself as an open economy for companies and individuals who want to make investments. It may be added here that in 2019, Transparency International dubbed it a ‘money laundering paradise’, and remarked that individuals with questionable sources of income are able to invest in Dubai without restrictions.

In the past attempts were made to find out details of Pakistanis who own properties in Dubai but they did not succeed. This information gap has now been filled by the thoroughly investigated and carefully documented Dubai Leaks which provide a glimpse into how the Pakistani elite built their assets in what is a favourite playground of the rich and the powerful from all over the world.

‘Dubai Unlocked’ contains minute details, including names, dates of birth, iqama numbers, expiry dates, passport information, telephone numbers and emails of Pakistani passport holders who are listed as having invested in single or multiple Dubai properties. There are also details of purchase and rental transactions. The properties owned by Pakistanis range from studio apartments and commercial properties to entire buildings and six-bedroom villas. Pakistanis are listed as owners in some of the most expensive districts of Dubai, including Dubai Marina, Emirates Hills, Business Bay, Palm Jumeirah and Al Barsha.

It is no surprise that the Zardari family is part of the list. So is Husain Nawaz, son of Mian Nawaz Sharif. Sharjeel Memon is there as well as Faisal Vawda. These people have been involved in corruption cases and although charges of corruption against them were dropped for lack of proof, suspicions regarding how they amassed such vast wealth continue to linger.

Owning a property in Dubai or any other part of the world per se is not a crime. Any Pakistani who has declared his income and wealth to tax authorities can do so. But the question here arises whether the properties identified in the Dubai Leaks are legal and declared in the tax returns. Many well-known names in the Dubai Leaks who are prominent in politics have issued press comments that their properties are legal and declared but in absence of documentary proof their statements are not credible.

There is another aspect to this sensational story of property ownership by Pakistanis in Dubai. Pakistan is a poor country under heavy debt which keeps begging IMF and friendly nations for loans and investment. How come, in these difficult circumstances, Pakistanis transferred a massive amount of 12 billion dollars to buy properties in Dubai. What message does this give to friendly countries who are being requested by our government to invest in Pakistan? While Pakistanis themselves are not investing in Pakistan, why should they?

It is no secret that while democracy has languished in Pakistan and the economy has been teetering on the edge of default, Pakistani politicians have become dirty rich over the last few decades. It is alleged that the politicians of all descriptions as well as bureaucrats have used their position and power to amass illegal wealth. For, by honest means it is not possible to make so much money in such a short time. The web of corruption also covers a large number of businessmen who are attached to and fund various political parties and are beneficiaries of crony capitalism.

There is a growing demand from various quarters in Pakistan that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and other investigating agencies should conduct a comprehensive inquiry into the Dubai Leaks report concerning properties owned by Pakistani citizens, including politicians, bureaucrats and armed forces officers. The object of the probe should be to find out whether the Dubai properties have been bought through legal instruments or with money amassed through corruption or tax evasion. Any individual found involved in the Dubai Leaks through tax evasion, money laundering, or any other illegal means, should be proceeded against and punished under relevant laws.