DUBAI, United Arab Emirates –
A global body focused on fighting money laundering has placed the United Arab Emirates on its so-called ‘gray list’ over concerns that the global trade hub isn’t doing enough to stop criminals and militants from hiding wealth there.
The decision late Friday night by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force puts the UAE, home to Dubai and oil-rich Abu Dhabi, on a list of 23 countries including fellow Mideast nations Jordan, Syria and Yemen.
While not expected to dent business in the Emirates, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula home to a multitude of economic free zones and real estate ventures, it could strike at the country’s carefully managed business-friendly image. Ratings agencies and other financial institutions also consider such a listing as a risk, which can affect interest rates for loans.
While praising the UAE’s “significant progress,” the body known as FATF said more needed to be done. Already, the UAE has established a corporate registry and signed extradition agreements with other nations.
However, the UAE long has been known as a place where bags of cash, diamonds, gold and other valuables can be moved into and through. In recent years, the State Department had described “bulk cash smuggling” as “a significant problem” in the Emirates.
A 2018 report by the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies, relying on leaked Dubai property data, found that war profiteers, terror financiers and drug traffickers sanctioned by the U.S. had used the city-state’s boom-and-bust real estate market as a safe haven for their money.
Emirati officials on Twitter and its state-run WAM news agency rushed to reassure investors that the UAE remained a safe, regulated place to do business and would address the international concerns.
“The UAE will continue its ongoing efforts to identify, disrupt and punish criminals and illicit financial networks in line with FATF’s findings and the UAE’s National Action Plan, as well as through close coordination with our international partners,” the Emirates’ Executive Office of Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism said.
Senior Emirati diplomat Anwar Gargash wrote on Twitter that the country had “made significant progress in combating financial crime.”
“Being a key economic hub, we remain resolute in strengthening strategic cooperation with our partners to address this global challenge,” he wrote.