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Who owns our cities?

The week in corruption, 15 May 2020

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Stay at home orders during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have put a spotlight on an often-ignored crisis – homelessness.

According to the latest estimates, 150 million people worldwide don’t have a place they can call home. Another 1.6 billion lack adequate housing.

Housing has become the front line defence against the coronavirus. Home has rarely been more of a life or death situation.
Leilani Farha UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing

There are many factors and policy failures that reduce the availability of adequate and affordable housing. At Transparency International, we focus on the mechanisms that allow corrupt individuals to steal from taxpayers in one country and secretly launder that money in real estate markets in other parts of the world, often driving up prices and fuelling property speculation.

This week, we took a close look at the United Arab Emirates, whose booming real estate sector is a major piece in the global money laundering puzzle. A plethora of cases have shown how high-end real estate in Dubai in particular provides an opportunity to park large sums of money without disclosing its origin. Investigations have shown that public officials from Armenia, Namibia and Nigeria have invested suspicious funds in the Emirates’ property market.

The UAE was recently warned by the Financial Action Task Force – the global anti-money laundering body – for these unacceptable risks and given one year to close the loopholes that seem to have turned it into a global money laundering hub.

But many countries are susceptible to money laundering in their real estate sectors. In Germany, for example, around US$30 billion of money with unclear origins entered the real estate market in 2017 alone. Several countries in the European Union encourage high-risk individuals to invest in their property markets through shady ‘golden visa’ schemes.

Identifying corrupt investors in property is often difficult because complex corporate structures and secrecy jurisdictions help them cover their tracks. A study published this week has found that almost a third of companies owning real estate in Berlin remain anonymous, despite new transparency laws.

Housing is a fundamental human right and a social justice issue.

Later this month, we’re partnering with the Disruption Network Lab to organise a very timely conference, Evicted by Greed.

News from Transparency International

A skyline at sunset in the UAE

By the normal standards of the Financial Action Task Force, a recent report into attempts by the United Arab Emirates to combat money laundering and terrorist financing is damning, to say the least. Here, we take a look at the shameful role of the UAE, and in particular Dubai, in some of the biggest scandals of recent years.

The United Arab Emirates: A key piece in the global money laundering puzzle

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