Emirate's innovation and tolerance hides haven for tax evaders and traffickers

Behind the proclamations of dialogue and development, the shadow of an opaque financial policy revealed by the "Pandora papers". A free zone for laundering dirty money and doing business even used by companies linked to the Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei. Economic interests outmatch regional, political and confessional issues. 

Dubai (AsiaNews) - The beating heart and strategic center of regional and international commerce, capable of excelling despite fierce competition, the dialoguing face of Islam and the scene in these months of Expo2020, postponed for a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dubai, and more generally the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are perhaps the jewel in the crown of the new wealth projected towards the future that now pervades many nations of the Middle East, especially the Gulf States. They are focusing on finance, technological innovation and the third sector to overcome their decades-long dependence on oil and hydrocarbons. 

However, the grand statements are counterbalanced by a certain opacity in terms of financial transparency. The veil has been lifted on the affairs which revolve around the Emirates and the royal families in power by the recently published inquiry "Pandora papers", the fruit of lengthy research and analysis of documents by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). 

The investigation also reveals the other side of the Emirates: a very rich fiscal and corporate paradise which conceals within itself many free zones where it is possible to do business and manage assets in complete anonymity, as well as launder "dirty" money, without paying taxes and benefiting from the protection of the top management.

Thousands of prominent personalities take advantage of this shield, from sport to economy; however, among the names that emerge is also that of the Iranian supreme guide, the great Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - with a company traceable to him - in theory he, a Shiite, the first rival of the great Sunni monarchies of the Gulf.

The UAE host a flourishing trade based on financial secrecy, marked by offshore companies that mask the identities of their real owners. And they exploit a regulatory system that is famous for its motto, "Ask no questions, tell no lies" for money tied up in smuggling gold, weapons and criminal proceeds. The more than 11.9 million files in the Pandora Papers include about 190 thousand confidential writings of SFM Corporate Services, an Emirati company described as "the world's number one offshore company training provider." SFM is one of thousands of companies that help clients incorporate companies, including hard-to-trace ones, and boasts a global network of lawyers, accountants and traders who enrich the trade.

Icij's investigative journalists have identified nearly 3,000 names in the Emirates, British Virgin Islands and other offshore financial centers that have been incorporated with the help or thanks to SFM's services. Among the beneficiaries are gold magnates, internet tycoons, dark web entrepreneurs and at least twenty people accused of financial crimes or misdemeanors.

For years, the company operated on the sixteenth floor of the H Hotel at number one Sheikh Zayed Road, a building owned by Sheik Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, former national security advisor and brother of Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and candidate for the presidency of the Emirates.

The files show that the prime minister of the Emirates is connected - through two companies in the British Virgin Islands - to the founder of Dark Matter, a cybersecurity company accused of spying on human rights activists and government officials in multiple countries.

Finally, the interest for business becomes even stronger than regional, political and confessional contrasts: from the files emerged from the archives of SFM, confirmed by some employees in an anonymous way, links with Iranian clients and other nations affected by US sanctions emerge.

The company had two companies owned by a German citizen of Iranian origin named Abdolhadi Tabibi, former director of GIC International, a subsidiary of Ghadir Investment, part of a multi-billion dollar foundation under the direct control of Khamenei. A game of Chinese boxes that, in spite of façade rivalries, economically binds the great Shiite ayatollah with the most important Sunni monarchy of the Gulf.