Will Hosting the UNCAC Meeting Prompt the UAE to Comply with the Convention?

The largest, most important anticorruption conference of the year is underway this week in the United Arab Emirates. Formally known as the eighth session of the Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the 186 nations that have ratified UNCAC are convening to examine how they can strengthen the fight against corruption.  They have not said why they chose to meet in the UAE, a collection of seven tiny, wealthy monarchies.  Perhaps it is because the Emirates’ location on the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula makes it an easy place to reach from anywhere on the globe. Or perhaps it is because of its top-notch conference facilities and first-rate restaurants and hotels.

Or perhaps something more subtle is at work.

It’s no secret that the UAE and the governments of its seven federated emirates, especially Abu Dhabi and Dubai, have repeatedly flouted their UNCAC obligations.  In researching The Despot’s Guide to Wealth Management, author Jason Sharman was told by staff from the World Bank/UNODC Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, the IMF, and the governments of Switzerland and the United States that “the UAE and particularly Dubai . . . were the leading haven for international corruption funds,” a conclusion Susan Hawley confirmed on this blog, writing that an “increasing numbers of corrupt money trails lead” to the UAE. Mozambique’s Prosecutor General reports that the UAE has stonewalled her request for help in prosecuting the accused in the “hidden debt” scandal, and evidence presented in the recently concluded U.S. trial of one of the accused revealed numerous violations of its anticorruption laws that the UAE has ignored.

Perhaps the other 185 parties to UNCAC hope that holding the meeting in the UAE will persuade its government to finally meet the nation’s obligations as an UNCAC party. Five indicators of whether their stratagem is succeeding:

1) Help on asset recovery.  Will the UAE direct the federated emirates to search for monies and assets deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and other corrupt Arab strongmen have stashed in their banks?  The seven emirates shouldn’t just help neighboring Arab states recover stolen assets.  What about Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Malaysia, and Ukraine, all countries whose corrupt leaders, sources say, have also hidden money in an emirate or two.

2) Ratify the extradition treaty with South Africa; cooperate with its investigation of the Guptas.  Members of the Gupta family, which captured the South African state during Jacob Zuma’s administration, live in the UAE.  An extradition treaty between South Africa and the UAE that would ensure the Guptas could be returned to face trial in South Africa for corruption offenses awaits final approval by the UAE.  It should be ratified immediately.  In addition, the banks in the Emirates should be directed to help locate all Gupta assets they hold.

3) Clean up Dubai’s real estate market.  Investigations by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Centre for Advanced Defense Studies confirmed what had long been suspected: that buying real estate in Dubai is a prime way corrupt officials launder money stolen from the citizens.  Despite being called out by Transparency International, Dubai has done nothing to stop the flow of dirty money into its property market. Last month, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that relatives of two former Afghan presidents, a presidential candidate, and a senior intelligence official all owned mansions in Dubai.  Will Dubai ever get the message?

4) Respond to the mutual legal assistance requests filed by the United States and Mozambique.  Both the United States and Mozambique have asked the UAE to provide evidence and information to help in the prosecution of the hidden debt scandal.  Neither has received a response.

5) Investigate and if warranted prosecute Privinvest, its CEO Iskander Safa, CFO Najib Allam, and chief salesman Jean Boustani for bribery and related crimes. As this blog explained December 4,  evidence adduced at a U.S. trial implicates shipbuilding giant Privinvest and its top executives in a massive bribery scheme involving tens of millions of dollars in payoffs to Mozambique public officials.  The company and the three individuals are either resident in the UAE or have significant enough ties to the UAE to be subject to its law. That law makes the bribery of a foreign public official a crime.   The UAE should commence an investigation at once.  If, as the company and the individuals have said, they are being falsely accused, they should welcome the opportunity clear their name.

Much of value is likely to come from the eighth session of the Council of State Parties.  But surely the most valuable result would be if the UAE were to at last take UNCAC seriously.  For the sake of corruption’s victims everywhere, let’s hope it does.


6 thoughts on “Will Hosting the UNCAC Meeting Prompt the UAE to Comply with the Convention?

  1. Thanks Rick for that pre-holiday cheer! I really needed that chuckle. Of course, hosting UNCAC CoSP will have no impact on the UAE in their national effort against corruption, which is why Qatar and UAE (plus many other countries) love UNCAC as it is an empty exercise in window dressing instead of a real national effort to reduce corruption. Now having spent my time in the Gulf and exploring the national efforts first hand I can attest, that UAE has at least gone through the motions of trying to increase their rankings in international indicators with some tweaks in transparency which its neighbours have not. However, we shouldn’t expect any changes anytime soon. Maybe some more big novelty cheques for UNODC though!

  2. .@OCCRP and @Krikrs editor @StevanOCCRP was detained in Abu Dhabi where he was scheduled to speak at the #uncac, the UNs big anti corruption meetup. Not a promising start to the convention. He will be deported. The UAE has a lot of explaining to do about their commitment.


    They gave him a comment about being on some vague list.

    Our colleague @StevanOCCRP of @KRIKrs is being escorted to the gate now in Abu Dhabi to await a flight back to Serbia. If this is how a speaker to a UN Convention on Corruption is treated, I have little faith in #UAE. Civil society is not valued and that’s a bad sign.

  3. In Brazil, the UNCAC meeting at the UAE has provoked debate on the presence of ministers of the Brazilian federal audit agency (TCU). The meeting is happening in the same week of the Soccer Club World Cup in Qatar (a neighboring country), in which the most popular Brazilian soccer team (Flamengo) is playing. Some media outlets have raised the suspicion that the public officials would be taking advantage of the trip, financed by the Brazilian treasury at a high cost, to watch the games. This report shows both sides of the story (in Portuguese): https://www.metropoles.com/brasil/politica-br/tcu-gasta-r-58-mil-em-viagem-de-ministros-a-abu-dhabi.

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