Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has become an alluring destination for politically exposed persons (PEPs) to invest their ill-gotten wealth. Although certainly not the only place to stash money, Dubai—dubbed the commercial capital of the Middle East—exercises minimal oversight and has few legal or logistical obstacles to transferring large amounts of cash or purchasing the property. In some cases, government officials and associates who succumb to the temptation become front-page news, but in many other cases, their activities go undetected or uncorroborated, despite the efforts of local authorities and intergovernmental bodies such as the Financial Action Task Force. As a result, billions of dollars are siphoned away to the detriment of both prosperous and struggling economies and societies.
For Nigerian PEPs, in particular, Dubai is an accessible oasis far away from the political drama in their capital, Abuja, or the hustle and bustle of their biggest city, Lagos. But a dearth of specific information about Nigerian PEPs’ property in Dubai has long precluded a deeper analysis of the share of illicit financial outflows from Nigeria; that is, until 2016 when the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (now known as C4ADS) acquired the data of a private database of Dubai real estate information (dubbed the “Sandcastles” data). At least 800 properties were found to have links to Nigerian PEPs or their family members, associates, and suspected proxies.
With such information and continued monitoring, Nigerian and Emirate authorities and national and international actors could ramp up their scrutiny on high-end property transactions involving Nigerian elites to ensure that these purchases are not being made with pilfered public funds. Bilateral law enforcement cooperation could also be deepened between Nigeria and UAE through the exchange of information and assisting investigations more responsively and routinely. For their part, Western governments, the United Nations, and other international organizations could press the UAE to make its property and corporate records more transparent.