evasion mecca

How UAE is getting around international sanctions against Russia

By Sébastien Boussois

Posted on April 10, 2023 14:45

 © Dubai, 18 February 2023. Karim Sahib/AFP
Dubai, 18 February 2023. Karim Sahib/AFP

As the next host of COP28, scheduled for the end of 2023, the United Arab Emirates has become a mecca of international sanctions evasion, and both Russians and Syrians are taking advantage.

From November 30 to December 12, 2023, the United Arab Emirates Confederation will host COP28. Not only is Dubai, which is considered a major regional polluter, clearing its name in this field, but since the start of the offensive launched by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and the imposition of international sanctions against Moscow, it has been engaging in a true “recycling” of Russian oligarchs.

Money laundering and prostitution

One might imagine that everything in Dubai is rosy and green. While Westerners often have images of parties, beaches, bikini-clad girls or unlimited alcohol in mind, they forget about the much less glamorous aspects of Dubai’s sphere: money laundering, prostitution, the hosting of deposed leaders – such as former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani – or those convicted in their own countries, such as Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani head of state who passed away last February, Palestinian Mohamed Dahlan, eternal opponent of Mahmoud Abbas, or many corrupt representatives of Afghanistan’s former elites.

The United Arab Emirates are playing with fire and, more importantly, flouting international law: the official rapprochement between Mohammed Ben Zayed (MBZ) and Bashar al-Assad in recent months, and the arrival of numerous private jets carrying Russian oligarchs eager to shelter their wealth despite the sanctions imposed on their country a year ago, demonstrate once again how little the UAE care about international financial legislation.

Money has no smell

Since February 2022, air links between Russia and the Gulf have resumed with renewed vigor after Vladimir Putin raised his voice against oligarchs who were starting to grumble about the conflict in Ukraine.

On the Emirati-Russian front, everything seems to be going smoothly: for a year, hundreds of Russian companies have been created bypassing Western sanctions.

Money has no smell, as we know. And Dubai never refuses to shake an extended hand, especially when it is filled with dollars. To such an extent that in the UAE there is no law on financial transparency and all capital is welcome.

Abu Dhabi has nothing to lose: already considered a tax haven in the region, it is, along with Dubai, the king of money laundering in the Gulf, regularly moving in and out of the European Union’s (EU) blacklists, and constantly engaging in financial operations that push the limits of legality.

Dubai has become the global hub of the art of evading international sanctions, which Russia and Syria are shamelessly taking advantage of.

The deals keep coming. Yet, it is one of the EU’s privileged economic partners in terms of armament and counterterrorism. Supposedly willing to help Europeans fight political Islam, the Emiratis continue to make them believe that they are the best model of development in the region, the Switzerland of the Middle East!

On the Emirati-Russian front, everything seems to be going smoothly: for a year now, hundreds of Russian companies have been created to circumvent Western sanctions, while banned oligarchs continue to do business and maintain their fortunes. Real estate investments are also widespread.

Dubai has become the global hub of the art of evading international sanctions, which Russia and Syria are shamelessly taking advantage of. Have Western countries imposed sanctions on the United Arab Emirates? None, even though Abu Dhabi’s behaviour is starting to annoy Washington prodigiously.

Our friends the Emiratis…

A recent article in Intelligence on Line reported that Washington was nevertheless trying to negotiate with Dubai to stop this illicit business: “As the United Arab Emirates has become an export hub to a Russian economy under sanctions, the US Treasury is trying to strike a deal with Dubai Customs to stop the trade,” it said.

It’s no better on the Syrian side: “Emirati exports to Syria continued to grow in 2018, reaching $1.5bn, although this growth is mainly attributable to Chinese products passing through Dubai and renamed as such in the UAE in order to reap the benefits of the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA) agreement.”

Evidence: today, 240,000 Syrians live and work in the UAE, mainly specialising in construction, the media, the health sector, and tourism. As it stands, they are not all political refugees and opponents of Bashar al-Assad!

While the stalemate of Russian troops in Ukraine remain the focus of all media attention, MBZ is weaving a web and dreaming of being a great leader of a regional or even global power, attracting decision-makers and capital, while increasing his financial power daily without any respect for international law.

For years, the Emiratis have become “friends” with a smooth and polished facade, cooperating with the West in the military security domain, in the fight against terrorism, and, above all, in energy security. One better understands why one must not contradict MBZ’s plans…

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