What Are The “Dubai Unlocked” Leaks?

Leaked property records from Dubai reveal that nearly 22,000 Pakistanis own residential property in Dubai, valued at over $12 billion. This puts Pakistan second on the list of foreign nationals owning property in Dubai, trailing India.

What Are The “Dubai Unlocked” Leaks?
Source: OCCRP

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Norwegian business newspaper E24 have concluded a months long investigation into leaked property data from Dubai. Published as the “Dubai Unlocked” investigation, the leaked data provides details of thousands of real estate holdings in the Emirate. Dawn and The News were OCCRP’s Pakistan partners in the investigation.

Dubai has acquired a reputation as the playground for the world’s rich and famous, but the Emirates’ lax regulation and low taxes have allowed murky financial transactions to flourish, with the real estate development sector serving as an enabler of money laundering and tax evasion.

The OCCRP writes as part of its investigation that “Dubai’s high-rises and villas have served as a safe haven for some of the world’s most wanted criminals, due in part to the secrecy its real estate sector affords. The city’s property records are difficult to obtain and cannot be easily searched. In some cases, even international law enforcement officials have been unaware that people in their sights owned property in Dubai.”

The OCCRP data paints a rather alarming picture, with nearly 22,000 Pakistanis owning residential property in Dubai, estimated at a total value of over $12 billion dollars. This ranks Pakistan second on the list of the number of residential properties in Dubai owned by foreigners, with India in the top spot.

For a country that has routinely teetered on the verge of economic collapse, a significant number of Pakistanis owning residential real estate in a foreign state speaks volumes about the disparity in wealth and incomes.

The data is not comprehensive however, with many business and political families from Pakistan who are widely known to have holdings in Dubai conspicuously missing from the leaks. The data from the leaks is not able to identify owners of property who acquired their holdings via shell companies, for example.

Nonetheless, a number of political figures feature in the data. Among them are Asif Ali Zardari and his children, former President General Pervez Musharraf, Hussain Nawaz Sharif, Sharjeel Memon, Faisal Vawda, the wife of Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi, Farah Gogi, Sher Afzal Marwat and a number of MNAs and MPAs.

The dataset includes nearly a dozen retired generals, a police chief and numerous family members of property tycoon Malik Riaz, the owner of Bahria Town Ltd. Altaf Khanani of Khanani and Kalia, who was imprisoned by the US for money laundering, and his son Obaid Khanani, feature in the dataset, with as many as three dozen properties. Haji Haroon, former president of the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan, features as one of the most prolific owners of residential property in the dataset, appearing as the listed owner of as many as 250 properties.

Reporting on the leaked data, Dawn claims that Pakistani authorities have routinely reached out to Dubai’s tax authorities to divulge information, who have been less than forthcoming about sharing information. Dawn’s reporting includes an anecdote from former FBR Chairman Shabbar Zaidi, who recounts being ordered by then Prime Minister Imran Khan to cease his investigation into the list of Pakistani citizens who held iqamas (residence permits) or were owners of property in the UAE.