31.05.2024 Author: Aleena Im

“Dubai Unlocked” – How the Pakistani Elite Have Stolen the Country’s Wealth

“Dubai Unlocked” - How the Pakistani Elite Have Stolen the Country's Wealth

Recently, an international investigative journalism report, aptly titled “Dubai Unlocked,” has revealed that some infamous and influential people hold real estate worth around $400 billion in Dubai. This investigative report has exposed the details of properties owned by some members of the global elite, including money launderers, famous politicians, criminals, and sanctioned individuals.

The report was developed through the collaboration and participation of various NGOs and media organizations including the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), eTwenty Four, a Norwegian financial outlet, the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, and reporters from 74 news agencies. Notably, Pakistan, with one of the most struggling economies globally, ranks second on the list of countries having the most properties in the world, followed by India.

Stark Contrasts: Wealth Abroad vs. Domestic Poverty

The report shows that the total value of the properties belonging to 204 nationalities in Dubai is estimated at $386 billion. Moreover, this report holds that 17,000 Pakistani citizens hold almost 23,000 properties in Dubai, and the value of these properties is around $11 billion. These figures are a stark contrast to the economic realities of Pakistan, and could also be one of the reasons for Pakistan’s stagnant economic plight despite several bailout packages by the IMF.

Poverty is one of the major predicaments in Pakistan, with 37.2 percent of people living below the poverty line. The inflation rate is also constantly increasing in Pakistan. The concentration of such an immense level of wealth abroad showcases the yawning gap between the rich and poor, exacerbating the socioeconomic disparities. Pakistan has a diverse population, which leads to several marginalized communities in the country. Some ethnic groups in Pakistan either partake in separation movements or protest for greater autonomy. Moreover, the precarious situation with the country’s neighbors and the ongoing threat of terrorism significantly jeopardize the country’s international image, leading to decreased foreign direct investment and tourism in Pakistan. Furthermore, the unemployment rate is super high in Pakistan. According to the International Labor Organization, the unemployment rate in Pakistan was at a staggering 47.6 percent in 2023, and the trend in the preceding years was not much better. All these factors have also led to a huge brain drain in Pakistan. Only in the year 2023, around 0.7 million young Pakistanis fled the country due to low economic opportunities and high inflation.

Corruption: The Root Cause of Pakistan’s Predicaments

The real reason behind all these predicaments is the widespread corruption in the country. Apart from many other corruption reports that have been popping up in the last few years, numerous politicians, bureaucrats, army personnel, and their family members have been nominated in the recent Dubai property reports. Most prominent among them are Hussain Nawaz (son of the former Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif, and nephew of the current Pakistani PM Shahbaz Sharif), three children of the current President Asif Ali Zardari, the wife of the current Federal Interior Minister and former Chief Minister of Punjab Mohsin Naqvi, Farah Gogi – a prominent figure and close friend of Imran Khan’s wife, Senator Faisal Vawda, and Sher Afzal Marwat, a prominent figure of PTI, along with many other political figures of the country. Late General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf and many army generals are also nominated in this report. As per this report, these people are either the direct owners or have properties registered in the names of their immediate family members.

The Pakistani nation seeks the resolution of its problems from the very politicians and figures mentioned in this report. However, the report suggests that they themselves are the root cause of all the Pakistan’s problems. This report, like many preceding ones, shows only the tip of the iceberg. Many of the politicians named in this report have already been nominated in many other corruption cases. They also allegedly own numerous offshore companies in different countries. However, since they are the people in power, constitutional loopholes are constantly created to help them accumulate illicit wealth and evade corruption cases. Such staggering financial amounts are almost impossible to accumulate for bureaucrats, politicians, and military personnel through legitimate means.

We can safely assume that obscene amounts of money or super-expensive property accumulated by them beyond their means are probably obtained through corruption or other illicit means. There is allegedly a nexus between the country’s bureaucracy and politicians to exploit their positions and leverage their influence over legislation to create favorable conditions and loopholes for accumulating and concealing their illegitimate wealth. Tax amnesty schemes are often introduced by the government to legitimize this illicit wealth. Politicians and other powerful government servants use these amnesty schemes to declare their undisclosed, illegitimately gained wealth. They mostly attribute this wealth to gifts received through family members, political supporters, or friends. Ultimately, they succeed in legitimizing their black money. However, all this happens at the expense of national integrity and prosperity. All the properties and wealth accumulated through illegitimate means ultimately lead to the impoverishment of the country. International projects such as CPEC and Gwadar Port have also been hit by the corruption and personal interests of the political mafias of the country. India’s recent 10-year agreement with Iran for the development and operation of Chabahar port is a defeat for Pakistan’s geopolitical interests. However, it would not be inappropriate to attribute this defeat to the illegitimate ambitions of Pakistan’s prominent politicians. What’s distressful is that they will get away with the Dubai Unlocked scandal, just like they did with the infamous Panama Leaks scandal, due to their influence over the country’s institutions and legislature.


Aleena Im – is an independent researcher and writer and is interested in international relations, current affairs, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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