In 18 months of Covid pandemic, Bangladeshi nationals have topped real-estate and housing investment in Dubai – a city known for luxury shopping, ultramodern architecture and a lively nightlife scene, according to Dubai public document and newspaper ranking.
Since the investment worth 123 million UAE Dirham, or around Tk288 crore, did not land on the Persian Gulf coast city through the official channel, it is assumed to be dirty, say experts.
According to them, the ranking riding on dirty money symbolises a few things: many people in the country had deep pockets even amid the virus shock, and they felt their wealth was not secure in Bangladesh and a second home means a safe exit to a new and luxurious life from a chequered past. With a legal vacuum about foreign investment secrecy and easy residential offers, Dubai matches with their potential destinations.
The buyers are businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats, said Bangladeshi community sources in Dubai.
Almost similar reasons, plus a legal shield to dirty money, gave rise to the infamous "Begum Para" in Canada's Toronto – a safe abode to many Bangladeshi nationals and their families with laundered money. Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen last year told a public programme that he had received a list of 28 cases with properties in Begum Para. The High Court subsequently asked the authorities for the complete list of such cases.
According to the Canadian government, more than 3,000 Bangladeshis have received residence permits in the country in the past five years, while around 45,000 Bangladeshi have received Canadian residency in 2006-20.
Immigration experts said several initiatives by the High Court, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit and other government agencies have toughened black and dirty investment in Canada. Meanwhile, the easy housing policy of Dubai lured the rich people who prefer their financial affairs not to be scrutinised publicly.
Referring to Dubai land department data, two Dubai newspapers – English Teller Report and Arabic Emarat Al Youm – ran a report recently with the same headline "Rich people of Bangladesh buy real estate in Dubai worth 123 million dirham".
According to the news report ranking, the Netherlands stood second with 117.67 million Dirham, Switzerland third with 111.25 million Dirham, China fourth with 107.9 million Dirham, and Germany in fifth place with 105 million Dirham.
However, the report did not mention companies or individuals who ploughed in the money. Dubai land department data too did not suggest the identities of Bangladeshi buyers.
They love marine view
Dubai Bangladeshi community leader Abul Asad said most of the newly bought ritzy apartments are in Downtown Dubai thanks to the wider scale of rates. Many eye-catching posh residential and leisure establishments such as Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall and Dancing Fountains are located in the area with a scenic marine view.
The second choice incorporates Dubai Sports City with an expensive and luxurious living, he said, adding many Bangladeshis have purchased apartments there over the last ten years.
Besides, Bangladeshis have purchased flats in Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Beach Residence, and Jumeirah Lake Towers for permanent living and leisure stay, he added.
Immigration and company lawyer Ajmalul Hossain QC said Dubai currently has no legal obligation to disclose foreign investment details. Besides, it is likely to adopt a Canada-like legal shield in future for such investments.
"On top of this, Tk1 crore investment in Dubai meets with a golden visa allowing a 10-year residence. Therefore, some Bangladeshi nationals are sprinting to it," added the senior lawyer.
A Bangladeshi business community leader in Abu Dhabi – the capital of The United Arab Emirates – said there are 20 real-estate companies and 30 Bangladeshi housing agents have been working in the country.
He said these firms and agents mainly mediate land and apartment purchases for Bangladeshis.
The Business Standard approached Tanvir Nasir – a senior property consultant at Abu Dhabi-based Bangladeshi housing company Rich Home Real Estate – for comments. But he declined.
However, another official of the firm said Bangladeshi buyers purchased 77 apartments by three Bangladeshi agencies in 2021. The three firms also mediated purchases of 11 residential buildings. However, this official declined to comment about the size of investment.
He said most of the buyers were businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats, who bought more properties in 2020 and 2021 compared to previous years. The buyer list also comprises some Bangladeshi migrants in Dubai, but he said the number is "negligible".
BB in dark
Abu Hena Mohd Razee Hassan, former deputy governor of the Bangladesh Bank (BB) and also the former chief of Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU), said some individuals and large conglomerates came up with hefty investments to Dubai in recent years, but those were for business expansion and setting up offices by the formal channel.
"I am unaware of any application for buying apartments or houses in the country," he told TBS.
The current BFIU chief, Md Masud Biswas, said they will look into the matter if public agencies concerned such as the Anti-Corruption Commission or law enforcers seek help.
Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), expressed shock at Bangladesh's ranking in Dubai investment.
"The government recently formulated a guideline about investment abroad. But when the money was invested in the 2020-21 period, such investments were illegal. I am quite sure that those amounts had been laundered," he noted.
Iftekharuzzaman said the government should find out who bought the properties in Dubai after syphoning money from Bangladesh. The TIB executive director suggested tasking the Bangladesh High Commission in Dubai with an inquiry in this regard.
Besides, the BFIU can be asked to track them down, he noted.