Monday May 27, 2024

Pakistanis own property worth $11bn in Dubai

"Dubai Unlocked" provides a detailed overview of hundreds of thousands of properties in Dubai

By Fakhar Durrani & Umar Cheema
May 15, 2024
General view of Palm Jumeirah development, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, June 1, 2023. — Reuters
General view of Palm Jumeirah development, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, June 1, 2023. — Reuters

ISLAMABAD: A global collaborative investigative journalism project has revealed the ownership of properties of the global elite in Dubai. The list includes political figures, globally sanctioned individuals, alleged money launderers and criminals. Pakistanis have also been identified on the list and their combined value has been estimated at around $11 billion.

The project — ‘Dubai Unlocked’ — is based on data that provides a detailed overview of hundreds of thousands of properties in Dubai and information about their ownership or usage, largely from 2020 and 2022. Properties purchased in the name of companies and those that are in commercial areas are not part of this analysis.

The data was obtained by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC. It was then shared with Norwegian financial outlet E24 and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which coordinated a six-month investigative project with reporters from 74 media outlets in 58 countries, uncovering scores of convicted criminals, fugitives, and political figures who have recently owned at least one piece of real estate in Dubai. The News and Dawn were partners from Pakistan.

It is surprising that while there are some Pakistani families (both political and from the business world) who are widely known to have a base and family homes in Dubai but do not feature in the property leaks. This shows that the data, otherwise robust, is neither a historic account of property ownership nor is it a complete picture of all properties bought by Pakistanis there.

Among the Pakistanis listed in the Property Leaks are President Asif Ali Zardari’s three children, Hussain Nawaz Sharif, Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi’s wife, Sharjeel Memon and family members, Senator Faisal Vawda, Farah Gogi, Sher Afzal Marwat, four MNAs and half a dozen MPAs from the Sindh and Balochistan assemblies. The Pakistani list also features the late Gen Pervez Musharraf, former prime minister Shaukat Aziz and more than a dozen retired generals as well as a police chief, an ambassador and a scientist – all of whom owned properties either directly or through their spouses and children.

In hi social media post, Sher Afzal Marwat said he owns an apartment in Dubai, which he declared with all regulatory authorities in Pakistan six years ago.

In 2014, President Asif Ali Zardari had received foreign property as a gift. By the time he declared it in 2018, he had gifted it to someone. In 2014, a business tycoon co-accused with Zardari in the fake accounts case, Abdul Ghani Majid, declared in his wealth statement that he had granted a gift of Rs329m but neither mentioned its type nor the recipient. The JIT, however, recovered a memo about the purchase in March 2014 of a penthouse in Dubai. The Property Leaks data has now unveiled that Ghani had gifted this property to Zardari who gifted it to his daughter.

Chief Financial Officer of Omni Group Aslam Masood along with his wife is also shown as a listed owner of several properties in the data. The News checked the value of one of them and found out that it was purchased at AED1,060,626 (Rs80m) in March 2013.

Sohrab Dinshaw is also a property owner in Dubai. A villa he purchased in 2015 carried a purchase price of AED 1271888 (Rs 96m).

All of the individuals mentioned were sent questions (except Aslam Masood who is deceased). None responded.

The Altaf Khanani network, which was sanctioned by the US for involvement in money laundering, has also surfaced on the list. His son, daughter, brother, and nephew are listed owners of several properties in Dubai. Three of them are facing sanctions.

Another notable character is Hamid Mukhtar Shah, a Rawalpindi-based physician who was sanctioned by the US for his involvement in the kidnapping, detention of, and removal of kidneys from Pakistani labourers. He is listed as the owner of scores of properties.

The Property Leaks have also revealed that Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi’s wife owns property in Dubai which he didn’t declare in the nomination papers he submitted in March this year for the Senate election.

Per the Property Leaks data, Naqvi’s wife owned a five-bedroom villa in the Arabian Ranches till 2023. She received a rental income of AED600,000 (Rs45m) from this villa, which was purchased in August 2017 for AED4,347,888 (Rs329m). The villa remained in her ownership till April 2023 when it was sold for AED4,550,000 (Rs344m) per the record.

However, she continues to be the owner of a property in Dubai if Dubai’s land record is taken as a guide. Responding to questions received from the media partner of this investigative project, she clarified that she had purchased another property in Dubai in January this year when Mohsin Naqvi was still interim chief minister of Punjab. To a question regarding this, she said: “We will declare it in the current year’s tax declarations and for the ECP”.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi clarified in a tweet that: “The Dubai property bought in my wife’s name since 2017 is fully declared and listed in tax returns. It was also declared in returns submitted to the Election Commission as Caretaker CM of Punjab. The property was sold a year ago, and a new property was purchased recently with the proceeds.”

The project has also revealed that former COAS General (r.) Qamar Javed Bajwa’s son Saad Siddique Bajwa also owned a luxurious two-bedroom apartment in an upscale area of Dubai in 2020.

The leaked data shows the property was initially purchased on February 18, 2020 for AED 2.35 million. Later the property was sold on December 27, 2020. The listed price of the property mentioned in the leaked data is AED 1.75 million.

Saad Siddique Bajwa bought the property from an investment company but later transferred it to his younger brother Ali Iqbal Bajwa who is the current owner of the property.

The News contacted Saad Siddique Bajwa who confirmed he bought the property but later sold it to his younger brother. The News then contacted Ali Iqbal Bajwa and sent him a questionnaire on how he bought the property, his sources of income, whether the money was sent through legal banking channels, and if he had declared the property with the tax authorities.

In his response, Ali Iqbal Bajwa sent a detailed statement and all the supporting documents including copies of the mortgage agreement, receipt of payments he received from his father, bank statement reflecting the loan that he obtained from a bank in Dubai etc. Below is the detailed response he sent to The News.

“I, Ali Iqbal Bajwa, currently am the owner of an apartment in Building 5, City Walk, Dubai. The apartment is currently mortgaged via Dubai Islamic Bank. The apartment was initially purchased, via a mortgage with Mashreq Bank Dubai, by my brother Saad Siddique Bajwa in Feb 2020. In Dec 2020, this apartment was transferred to me and since then I have been occupying it.”

On whether the property is declared with the tax authorities in Pakistan or not, he said, “The apartment was declared in my brother’s tax returns with FBR in 2019-20. Since the property was transferred to my name in the second half of 2020, I have been duly declaring it in my tax returns with FBR from 2020-21 onwards. The apartment was initially supposed to be purchased by me in Dec 2019 (as I was supposed to start my new job in Dubai in Jan 2020), hence the transfer of funds from Pakistan to my bank account in UAE. However, my employment starting date was delayed to March 2020. Therefore, I transferred the funds from my account to my brother’s account and he purchased the apartment. Later on, he decided not to keep the apartment for himself as the monthly mortgage payments were high. I offered to purchased [sic] the apartment from him, and took out a mortgage to purchase the apartment in Dec 2020.

“I have been working in the UAE since October 2017. Initially, I was employed by an oil company in Abu Dhabi from October 2017 to October 2019. Thereafter, I started working with a global management consulting firm from March 2020, and have been based in Dubai since then.

“The apartment value when purchased in Feb 2020 was AED 2,350,000. The down payment made for this by my brother was AED 1,000,000, with the remaining amount taken as mortgage from Mashreq Bank. When the apartment was later transferred to me, the appraised value was AED 1,750,000, of which AED 350,000 I paid as down payment and obtained a mortgage for AED 1,400,000 from Dubai Islamic Bank. This mortgage is currently still active.”

Ali Iqbal Bajwa also annexed supporting documents as evidence of his claim that the amount was sent through proper legal channels from his parents. The documents include the bank statements and receipts of banking transactions, mortgage agreement, loan agreements with the banks, and tax returns of Saad Siddique and Ali Iqbal which show the property is declared with the tax authorities.

According to the data leak assessed by economists and reporters, the number of residential properties owned by foreigners in Dubai put Indians first, at 35,000 properties and 29,700 owners. The total value of these properties is estimated at $17 billion that same year. Owners with Pakistani nationality come second among foreigners at 17, 000 owners of 23,000 residential properties followed by UK citizens and Saudi nationals.

Among the Pakistani owners, the average value per owner is estimated at $0.41 million (Rs11.40m). The combined value of the properties of Pakistanis has been estimated at around $11 billion (Rs30tr) whereas the total value of properties of 204 nationalities is $386 billion (Rs1073.70tr).

The Property Leaks data includes the controlling party of each property, as well as other identifying information such as his or her date of birth, passport number, and nationality. In some cases, the data captured renters instead of owners as mostly it came from official government documents as well as publicly owned utility companies.

The project’s reporters have only revealed the names of owners in cases that serve the public interest. This includes property owners who have been convicted or accused of crimes, are facing sanctions, or are public officials or their associates, including those accused of corruption or who have kept their properties hidden from the public.

Journalists used the data as a starting point to explore the landscape of foreign property ownership in Dubai. They spent months verifying the identities of the people who appeared in the leaked data, as well as confirming their ownership status, using official records, open-source research, and other leaked datasets. Reporters have only included people in the project if their identities could be independently confirmed through other sources.

Dubai’s official land registry was also used to ascertain whether individuals appearing in the data remain property owners. In some cases, reporters could not determine current ownership status, usually because a property had been recently sold. In those cases, extra efforts were made to confirm that the person did own property in Dubai, including combing through real-estate transactions and rental databases.

Responding to Dubai property leaks, a spokesperson for the PPP chairman said that all the domestic and foreign assets owned by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari have been declared before the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Zulfiqar Ali Badr, the spokesperson, said: “The entire world knows that Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Aseefa Bibi grew up in exile.”

His remarks came as a global collaborative investigative journalism project has revealed the ownership of properties of the global elite in Dubai.

During her exile, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, along with her children, lived in the Dubai properties, the spokesperson said, adding that after her assassination, her children inherited the properties.

Details of the assets owned by Bilawal and Aseefa were also available on the ECP’s website, the spokesperson added.

“Details of Bilawal and Aseefa’s Dubai assets are already public.” He said: “There is nothing new in the story. Nothing is illegal. Apparently, it is a story but not a scandal. Any action based on malice will be challenged on the relevant forums.”

For his part, Sindh’s Senior Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon said: “My assets are already declared and in public’s knowledge.”

The minister said that the assets details already submitted to the ECP and the tax officials were being reported now to “create sensation”.

“The properties mentioned in the story have already been declared before the ECP and the concerned tax authorities.”

He further said that he submits the assets’ details to the authorities every year.

Speaking on a current affairs show of a private news channel, Independent Senator Faisal Vawda said Tuesday that the ‘Dubai Leaks’ was part of a propaganda, claiming that he has objection over the “timing” of the report’s release as Pakistan is about to attract foreign investment.

The politico — an ex-leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) — questioned why “not a single name from the former ruling party” was mentioned in the leaks. He claimed that a few “honest personalities” were also included in the list.

The senator went on to say that a “dossier” was being issued after “removing a specific class” from it.

Vawda further claimed that the makers of the property leaks imposed “illegitimate tag” on all properties, without separating the “legitimate” possessions in Dubai. He insisted that the properties under his ownership in Dubai “were declared”.

He said that the timing of the property leaks was questionable as the so-called revelations were made public at a time when Pakistan and its ally state — Dubai — were expecting global investments.

The senator also questioned the release of confidential property records just after the law and order situation got disturbed in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). Reacting to Dubai leaks, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif censured the leaked property records, saying that there was “nothing new in it” and termed it a “remake of a flopped old movie”.

In a post on X (former Twitter), the senior politico claimed that those prominent personalities — Pervez Musharraf, Shaukat Aziz, Faisal Vawda and many others named in the fresh property leaks — had also been named in Panama leaks which they did not deny.

He added that former premier Nawaz Sharif had also been targeted despite having no connection with Panama papers.

In another tweet, Asif further alleged that the “flop episode” was seemingly a planned attempt to divert attention from the “real culprits”, who were probably behind Dubai leaks’ funding.

He predicted “more big news” were likely to hit media as soon as they were coming to a conclusion.


• This OCCRP ‘Property Leaks’ story does not focus on Pakistan. Out of $389 billion, Pakistanis own less than 2.8% of the value.

• Owning property outside Pakistan is not an illegal activity per se; many people own properties abroad — because they have worked abroad or have used their taxed income to buy those assets. It is for tax authorities in their respective countries to decide the legality of the matter.

• Dubai stands as a beacon of progress and innovation in the Muslim world, exemplifying a unique blend of cultural heritage and futuristic vision. Dubai’s pro-business environment is bolstered by state-of-the-art infrastructure, strategic global connectivity, and forward-thinking economic policies that encourage investment and foster economic diversification while committing to sustainability and smart city initiatives. Dubai not only celebrates its rich cultural heritage but also embraces diversity, making it a dynamic cosmopolitan metropolis. However, like any major global city, Dubai is not without its challenges. It is important to acknowledge that in every community, there are individuals who may seek to exploit systems to their advantage, sometimes misusing laws for personal gain. Such actions by a few do not reflect the overall integrity or values of the city or its governance. Dubai continues to strive for transparency and legal fairness to minimize such abuses and promote a healthy, inclusive economic and social environment.