Dubai Revealed: Pakistanis’ $12.5bn Property Empire 

Dubai Revealed: Pakistanis’ $12.5bn Property Empire 

What is the reason for investment in Dubai’s property by Pakistanis? This question becomes more urgent when we find out that the properties of Pakistanis in Dubai are of very good value, they cost $12.5 billion.

As Pakistan’s economic establishment suffers, many wonder how mass wealth is flowing into Dubai’s real estate market

Dubai Revealed: Pakistanis’ $12.5bn Property Empire 

Unveiling The Details

In recent years, Pakistani officials have tried to find out which citizens own assets in Dubai. They aim to bring undeclared assets into the tax net. However, they have faced many obstacles.

Dubai authorities are not willing to share even simple information, like how many Pakistani citizens have Dubai residence visas, known as iqamas or Emirates IDs.

This reluctance is partly due to political reasons. Pakistan lacks the power to demand this information. Despite this, leaked property data now provides a clear view. It shows over 23,000 properties belonging to Pakistani nationals as of early 2022.

This data, collected by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), was shared with various media outlets, including the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Norwegian financial outlet E24.

Astonishing Numbers

The leaked data, mainly from 2020 and 2022, reveals a lot. It shows hundreds of thousands of properties in Dubai and details about their ownership. Academics using this data estimate that the value of these properties was over $10 billion at the start of 2022.

With property prices increasing by more than 25% in the last two years, the current value of Pakistani-owned properties in Dubai is estimated to be well over $12.5 billion.

Malik Amjed Zubair Tiwana, chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) in Pakistan, says, “If we have the data you are talking about, as well as information on residence status, we will ensure those eligible to pay tax in Pakistan are doing so.” He believes political will is necessary to tackle tax evasion.

Dubai Revealed: Pakistanis’ $12.5bn Property Empire 

The Political Hurdles

Past efforts by Pakistani officials to get information from Dubai have failed. Both the current and former FBR chairmen confirm that Dubai authorities do not share information on iqamas, despite a tax treaty between the UAE and Pakistan to avoid double taxation.

In 2019, the FBR expressed its frustration at this silence and threatened to end the treaty, but Dubai remained uncooperative.

Former FBR chairman Shabbar Zaidi shares a revealing story. In December 2019, he asked his director of taxes to get iqama details from Dubai to identify Pakistani owners. Soon after, a senior diplomat contacted him, suggesting he should drop the matter.

Despite pressure from higher-ups, including then Prime Minister Imran Khan, who reminded Zaidi of a $1 billion bailout package from the UAE, the issue remained unresolved.

The Range Of Properties

Pakistanis own various types of properties in Dubai. These range from studio apartments and commercial properties to entire buildings and six-bedroom villas. They own properties in some of Dubai’s most expensive areas, including Dubai Marina, Emirates Hills, Business Bay, Palm Jumeirah, and Al Barsha.

Also Read: Why Dubai Property Buyers Are Shifting Their Hunt To Outskirt Areas?

Tax And Legal Issues

Ali Rahim, a tax lawyer, explains how tax laws apply to Pakistanis with overseas assets. Resident Pakistanis must declare their entire world income and pay taxes accordingly. If their overseas assets are valued above Rs100 million, they must pay a 1% tax on that value.

However, this law is currently being challenged in Pakistan’s courts. Non-resident Pakistanis only need to pay tax on income generated within Pakistan.

Rahim shares a troubling story. A few years ago, some officials on a private visit to Dubai got property details under pretenses and then blackmailed the property owners for money. Politicians and politically exposed persons (PEPs) are supposed to follow the same laws, but often their cases vanish into thin air.

The Global Context

Data from the Atlas of the Offshore World shows that Pakistani offshore financial wealth in Switzerland dropped from $11 billion in 2001 to $1 billion in 2022. This decline is due to increasing transparency in the global banking system.

As banking transparency increases, real estate becomes a more attractive investment, with Dubai being the top choice for Pakistanis. London and Singapore follow but with much smaller investments.

The Dark Side Of Dubai

Dubai is known as a global financial hub and a playground for the rich. However, it also has a darker side, being a tax haven and a top destination for money laundering, often through real estate transactions. Transparency International called it a “money laundering paradise” in 2019.

Several individuals interviewed by OCCRP, including a former central bank governor, described parallel systems in Dubai. One system follows all rules and guidelines, while the other operates outside formal systems, catering to shady investors who don’t want questions about their money.

A lawyer mentioned that private jets full of money frequently land in Dubai without any questions asked.

In an undercover interview, a Damac employee told a journalist that they accept payments in cryptocurrency or cash, without asking questions. In response, Damac Properties denied this was their policy, claiming they follow strict due diligence for cash transactions.

The UAE embassy in Norway stated that the UAE takes its role in protecting the global financial system seriously. The UAE has issued significant fines and seized assets related to money laundering.

However, some experts worry that the recent removal of Dubai from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list was premature.

Real Estate As A Blind Spot

According to the EU Tax Observatory’s Global Tax Evasion Report 2024, real estate is a serious blind spot in international information exchange. While there are legitimate reasons for holding real estate abroad, it can also be used for money laundering and tax evasion.

The attractiveness of real estate lies in its stable value and potential for anonymous ownership in countries with weak property registers.

The Dubai property leaks are fascinating because they reveal how wealthy Pakistanis invest in their favorite offshore destination.  

Verification Process

For this investigation, Dawn reporters examined data linked to public office holders, politicians, military personnel, and PEPs. They verified ownership status using the Dubai Land Department (DLD) system. Many checks confirmed ownership, showing that these individuals are still listed as owners in the DLD system.

The data shared with Dawn reporters represents a snapshot of Pakistani investment in Dubai property during a specific period. It does not cover all properties bought by Pakistanis, as many owners remain undetected, especially those who purchase through third parties or shell companies.

Dubai Revealed: Pakistanis’ $12.5bn Property Empire 

Elite Connections

Shabbar Zaidi, the former FBR chairman, says, “Every elite family in Pakistan — armed forces, politicians, business people — everyone rich has property in Dubai. The larger issue is the lack of transparency and the close ties between the elite in Pakistan and the UAE.”

Data Storm

The property data at the heart of this project comes from over 100 datasets, mostly from the Dubai Land Department and publicly owned utility companies. 

It includes the listed owner of each property and other identifying information like date of birth, passport number, and nationality. In some cases, the data captured renters instead of owners.

Journalists used this data to explore foreign property ownership in Dubai. They spent months verifying identities and ownership status using official records and open-source research.

They identified many Dubai property owners whose presence in the emirate is in the public interest, including those accused or convicted of crimes, facing international sanctions, or being politically exposed persons (PEPs).

Conclusion

The leaked data provides a contrasting picture. Pakistan, a country facing economic collapse, features prominently in the Dubai property market. Despite the challenges, this investigation sheds light on how wealthy Pakistanis invest in Dubai real estate.

The data reveals a world of elite connections and hidden wealth, highlighting the need for greater transparency and accountability.

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