Playground for money launderers

SEVERAL people linked to Singapore’s biggest case of money laundering have been named in an international media investigation known as the Dubai Unlocked project.

They were identified as having purchased property worth millions of dollars in Dubai alongside terrorist financiers, drug lords and kleptocrats.

Dubai Unlocked involved journalists from more than 70 media outlets across the world, including The Straits Times, Al Jazeera, Forbes, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Times.

The reports are based on a massive leak of records of hundreds of thousands of properties in Dubai and information about their ownership or usage, mostly from 2020 and 2022.

The data was obtained by the Centre for Advanced Defence Studies, a non-profit organisation based in the United States, and shared with Norwegian financial outlet E24 and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which coordinated the investigations over the course of more than six months.

The leak revealed that former Afghan Parliament Speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani and his son Ajmal spent more than US$15mil (RM70.5mil) on real estate in Dubai.

Both were sanctioned in 2023 for misappropriating US government aid, allegedly siphoning off millions of dollars in American reconstruction funds after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Nikkei Asia reported on May 15 that the leak contained the names of several people linked to sanctioned terrorist organisations.

They include Adham Tabaja, an alleged member of fighter group Hezbollah; Qatari-based Ali al-Banai, who is believed to be part of an international network helping to finance Hezbollah’s operations; and Ali Osseiran, who is allegedly facilitating money laundering for Hezbollah through art businesses.

They all own properties in Dubai, including Ali Osseiran, who has a unit in Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper.

The Rolling Stone on May 14 identified several drug lords among those named in the leak.

It reported that Asadullah Khalid, a drug lord and war criminal, had purchased a home in Dubai. The former Afghan government official also owns a villa there, which he rented out for tens of thousands of dollars every month.

Uruguayan drug cartel leader Sebastian Marset, who is wanted by authorities across South America, was also identified as a property owner.

The leak also revealed that a pair of cryptocurrency scammers, linked to the US$4bil (RM18.8bil) OneCoin fraud case, managed to liquidate their Dubai properties even though they were facing criminal charges in the United States.

As part of the Dubai Unlocked project, ST reported on May 17 that money-laundering accused Su Jianfeng had allegedly worked with a Singapore-based businessman to sell properties in Dubai worth tens of millions of dollars to foreigners in Singapore.

Checks by ST found that he owned 12 properties in Dubai, valued at around S$21.4mil (RM74.9mil). He currently faces a total of 12 charges.

Lin Baoying, another person linked to the money-laundering case who faces three charges, was found to own a villa in Dubai valued at S$9.5mil (RM33.25mil).

Convicted money launderer Su Haijin, who was sentenced to 14 months’ jail by the Singapore courts in April, owns 11 units spanning the entire 58th floor of the Grande Downtown, a luxury condominium that offers unobstructed views of the Burj Khalifa.

Several others, who similarly own entire floors of apartments in the same building, lived in Singapore until recently. They left the country around the time the 10 foreigners linked to the S$3bil (RM10.5bil) money-laundering case were arrested.

Officials from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) rubbished the reports in the Khaleej Times on May 15.

The Emirati broadsheet quoted an unnamed official who said that the UAE is committed to fighting money laundering.

The official pointed out that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) had taken the UAE off its grey list in February 2024.

The FATF, which is the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog, places jurisdictions on the grey list if they are working to resolve “strategic deficiencies within agreed timeframes”.

These countries are subject to increased monitoring by the watchdog.

In response to queries from OCCRP, the UAE Embassy in Oslo said it is committed to safeguarding the integrity of the global financial system.

“The UAE takes its role in protecting the integrity of the global financial system extremely seriously,” the embassy said. — The Straits Times/ANN

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