Blacklist Dubai for failure to crack down on Russian oligarchs, activists say | United Arab Emirates

Activists and politicians are calling for the UAE to be blacklisted for its failure to stem the flow of “dirty money” and enforce sanctions imposed on Russian oligarchs.

The Gulf state has emerged as a key haven for Russia’s super-rich fleeing the impact of global sanctions, with private jets and superyachts linked to oligarchs flying to the UAE following Ukraine’s invasion.

Bill Browder, the financier and critic of Vladimir Putin’s regime, said: “Dubai has long been a safe haven for dirty money. It should now be financially blacklisted and its leaders should not be welcome here.”

He said secondary sanctions should be imposed on the UAE unless they provide support to countries pursuing oligarchs’ fortunes.

Last week it emerged that one of the world’s most expensive private jets, owned by former Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, has been grounded in Dubai for more than three months. The US Department of Justice cited the last recorded flight of the $350 million Boeing 787 Dreamliner – from Moscow to Dubai on March 4 – in legal documents seeking its seizure.

Agents were also authorized by a judge to seize a second Abramovich plane – a Gulfstream G650ER – in Moscow, although there is no prospect of immediate seizure.

FBI investigators, like many others who track oligarch fortunes, have found that the trail often leads to the UAE. There has also been a surge in Russians buying property there. The UAE was placed on a “grey list” by the global regulator, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), in March for deficiencies in its measures to combat money laundering and other financial crimes, and there are now calls for the country to be included on similar international lists.

Officials in the UAE do not believe they have an obligation to implement sanctions drawn up by other countries, but insist they are working to address concerns raised by the FATF. The country also signed a series of mutual legal assistance and extradition pacts with other states, including the US, on February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine. The fate of Abramovich’s private jet could now be a test of his commitment to international cooperation. On February 25, the UAE abstained from a UN Security Council resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine.

Karen Greenaway, a lawyer and former FBI agent who specializes in illicit money flows, said US officials would almost certainly turn to UAE authorities for help over the jet linked to Abramovich.

“UAE officials say they are cleaning up their financial transparency law but now need to walk the border between Russia and the US, UK and the EU,” she said.

A popular destination for Russian tourists, the UAE also has around 100,000 Russian-speaking residents. A report by Dubai real estate agency Betterhomes revealed that property purchases in the emirate increased by 67% in the first three months of 2022.

A superyacht that has “gone dark” in ocean tracking systems – the futuristic £240million motor yacht A, which is linked to billionaire Andrey Melnichenko – has been spotted in port in the northern emirate of Ras al-Khaimah, according to the financial times.

Melnichenko was sanctioned by the EU in March, and Italian authorities seized his 143-metre sailing yacht A in the same month. Motor yacht A has so far escaped enforcement of sanctions.

Superyacht Madame Gu has been linked to Andrey Skoch, a billionaire and member of Russia’s parliament who is subject to US, UK and EU sanctions. The superyacht is also under American sanctions, but its location is unknown. His last reported sighting was in Dubai on March 6th.

Dubai’s role as a haven for the Russian elite since the invasion of Ukraine has once again put measures to combat money laundering and illegal money in the spotlight. An investigation into a leak of property data in Dubai released last month found scores of property owners have been charged, convicted of crimes or face international sanctions, including businessmen close to the Kremlin.

Members of the European Parliament wrote to Financial Services Commissioner Mairead McGuinness last month urging that the UAE be included on their list of third countries posing significant threats to the financial system.

Kira Marie Peter-Hansen, a Danish MEP, said the latest investigation found the UAE to be a safe haven for criminal proceeds, corrupt officials and Russian oligarchs. She said: “We want the UAE to be blacklisted, especially given the large number of Russian oligarchs using the country to avoid sanctions.”

UAE officials did not respond to a request for comment.

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