Cyprus harbors sanctioned Afghan politicians

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US sanctions, Ajmal Rahmani, Ocean Estate Company Limited, Dubai real estate, Cypriot passport, Ocean Residencia, Fern Heights Image credit: OCCRP

After Britain, Germany and Dubai, and Dominica, Cyprus has turned into latest epicenter that allows corrupt individuals including sanctioned Afghan politicians in running commercial activities through dirty cash. In a recent report the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) said, few years ago, member of Afghan parliament, Ajmal Rahmani was sanctioned for allegedly misappropriating US government aid intended to help rebuild his war-torn country. Instead of doing that, Rahmani built an extensive business and real estate empire in Germany and Dubai.

According to OCCRP and its media partner ZDF frontal, between 2018 and 2022, Ajmal Rahmani amassed real estate in Germany worth 197 million euros (US$212 million). He bought the properties using Cypriot holding companies, as well as German firms registered with his Cyprus passport.

Leaked data shows that five properties in Dubai – one of the most infamous capitals of dirty cash and safe haven for criminals, fraudsters, gangsters and corrupt individuals, properties worth US$3.2 million were also registered to Ajmal Rahmani’s Cypriot passport.

In December 2023, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Ajmal Rahmani and his father, Mir Rahman Rahmani, for alleged corruption that included manipulating Afghanistan’s fuel market in order to misappropriate US reconstruction funds.

On January 31, the Rahmanis filed an ongoing lawsuit against the US government in response in which they “categorically deny any involvement in any fuel procurement corruption scheme”.

The Rahmanis’ lawsuit also inadvertently solved a mystery: It revealed that the father and son both continued to hold Cypriot citizenship.

OCCRP reported in December that a Cyprus government-appointed committee had advised authorities to consider revoking their passports, because they had allegedly violated regulations governing the application process.

“The possibility of depriving the investor of citizenship should be considered”, said a 2021 internal report about Ajmal Rahmani from the committee, which was obtained by reporters.

The recommendations from the committee headed by former Supreme Court President Myron Nicolatos were non-binding, and it is not known if Cyprus reviewed the Rahmanis’ citizenship. Cyprus authorities did not respond to a request for comment.

In an emailed response to questions, Ajmal Rahmani said his citizenship “was acquired and disclosed to the relevant authorities in full compliance with the laws of Cyprus”.

Nicolatos was appointed by the Attorney General’s Office in 2021 to look into irregularities in Cyprus’ citizenship-by-investment program, which had been shut down after an Al Jazeera investigation revealed deep corruption.

Officials were captured on a hidden camera discussing bribes in exchange for providing a fictional Chinese criminal with a passport from Cyprus, which is part of the European Union. That caused an uproar in other member states, because Cyprus citizenship could allow undesirable individuals to travel freely, and do business in EU countries.

Austrian property records show that Cypriot citizenship helped Tahmina Tajali, the wife of Ajmal Rahmani, purchase a villa in the ski resort town of Kitzbühel in 2020. The property, which cost 10.5 million euros, is registered to her Cyprus passport.

Austrian regulations require people from countries outside the EU to obtain approval from local authorities before buying a property. Permission is granted only if there is a cultural, social or economic interest in concluding the transaction, and if the purchase will not impair “national political interests”.

“In addition to increased mobility, being a citizen of an EU member state brings certain privileges”, said Eka Rostomashvili, of the advocacy group Transparency International. “Among them is less scrutiny when opening a bank account or a company”.

In his continuing lawsuit against the US government, Ajmal Rahmani highlighted the use of his Cypriot passport in building up his business, noting that he “obtained a citizenship by investment from Cyprus, and began investing in Europe”.

When asked about reports that prosecutors in the German city of Stuttgart were investigating real estate transactions related to his businesses, Ajmal Rahmani said that he was “actively cooperating with the Stuttgart Public Prosecutor’s Office through our legal representatives to support their preliminary examinations”.

After shutting down its golden passport program, Cyprus canceled citizenship for scores of people, including Jho Low, a financier at the center of the massive 1MDB scandal, which saw billions of dollars siphoned out of a Malaysian state fund.

As it turns out, Jho Low was a neighbor of Ajmal Rahmani in the resort town of Ayia Napa, on Cyprus’ southeast coast. A purchase agreement cited by the Nicolatos Committee indicates that Ajmal Rahmani paid the minimum investment of 2.5 million euros for a beachfront villa in 2014, the same year he applied for his passport.

In another crossover with Jho Low, the Rahmanis used the same two companies to process their applications, Henley & Partners and FidesCorp Limited. Leaked invoices show that Ajmal Rahmani paid 55,000 euros in fees to Henley Estates, the local passport broker to global company Henley & Partners.

In an emailed response to questions, Henley & Partners spokesperson Sarah Nicklin said its finance department had “done a thorough check and cannot locate any payment received from Rahman Rahmani and/or his son Ajmal Rahmani”.

“However, it could be that these individuals were referred to independent local service providers, and that Henley Estates was involved in the associated real estate purchase”, Nicklin added.

According to findings by the Nikolatos Committee, Ajmal Rahmani appears to have paid at least 90,000 euros to FidesCorp, which is co-owned by the former son-in-law of Demetris Syllouris, a Cypriot politician now facing corruption charges in connection with the passport scheme. There is no suggestion that Syllouris or his former son-in-law did anything illegal in regard to the Rahmani’s passport applications.

An internal report from Nicolatos Committee notes that FidesCorp processed successful citizenship applications for the wife and daughters of Mir Rahmani, even though their paperwork included suspected “forged documents.”

“It is clear that Fides Corp did not comply with their obligations in relation to the applicants,” the report said.

“No credible authorities or legal bodies have brought such accusations against me or my dependents”, Mir Rahmani said in an email to OCCRP.

“All business transactions conducted in Cyprus have been lawful, fully transparent, reported to all relevant authorities, and strictly following international standards and regulations”.

While the Rahmanis’ January 31 lawsuit shows that they maintained their citizenship despite advice from the Nicolatos Committee to review their status, they say they are now worried that the Treasury sanctions could cost them their Cypriot passports.

In their lawsuit, the Rahmanis argue that sanctions are “exposing them to serious risk of loss of citizenships, potential deportation to Afghanistan where they and their families, if returned, would encounter serious threat and risk of persecution and physical harm at the hands of the Taliban”.

The lawsuit expressed concern that Ajmal Rahmani could be forced to leave Dubai if his Cyprus passport was revoked, noting that “his residency is tied to his Cypriot citizenship”.

In addition to the US$3.2 million worth of Dubai real estate registered to his Cypriot passport, Ajmal Rahmani developed two more properties that were purchased for a total of $6.9 million. He did this via two UAE-registered companies he owned, Ocean Estate Company Limited and The Fern Limited.

The properties are now the sites of the Ocean Residencia and Fern Heights residential developments, which together generate over US$2 million in annual rental income.

Ajmal Rahmani has also complained that the sanctions are affecting his considerable business interests in Germany, where his companies own US$212 million worth of real estate.

The US sanctions have been “disrupting business relationships enjoyed by Plaintiff A. Rahmani and companies under his ownership, and also negatively impacting the employees of those companies jeopardizing their livelihoods”, the lawsuit says.

Among other alleged impacts, the German unit of the computer giant IBM canceled the lease for its head office in the country, which was in a building owned by a subsidiary of Ajmal Rahmani’s Cyprus holding company, RG Holdings Limited.

The city of Ehningen announced its “suspension of an urban development plan” with RG Holdings’ German subsidiary to redevelop the property once the IBM lease was up at the end of 2024. Ajmal Rahmani had planned to turn it into a “mixed-use residential, commercial, educational and technology project”, the lawsuit says.

In an email to OCCRP, Ajmal Rahmani said authorities were still discussing the future of the development, but he was confident that the final decision would be in his favor.

“We maintain full confidence in our position, anticipating complete exoneration”, he said.

ArabLeaks – a bombshell report by Blitz

Following the publication of a report in this newspaper exposing how a number of Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates, particularly Dubai have turned into safe havens for money launderers, terror funders, drug, arms, and human traffickers, fraudsters, gangsters, terrorists, and radical Islamic jihadist entities, we have received stunning details on individuals and entities which are involved in committing serious crimes being sitting in Dubai. Further investigating this information would result in another Panama Papers, Paradise Papers, or Pandora Papers, which we have named – Arab Leaks (#ArabLeaks).

Country of origin of these individuals and entities are: Dubai, Sharjah, Libya, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Pakistan, India, Yemen, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, United States, Qatar, Iran, Oman, Germany, Portugal, Netherlands, Afghanistan, France, Panama, Taiwan, France, Australian, Syria, Czech Republic, Norway, Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, Kenya, Kuwait, Italy, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Singapore, Armenia, Russia, Cyprus, South Africa, Sweden, Lithuania, Turkey, Kenya, Portugal, Mauritius, Lebanon, Tanzania, China, Liechtenstein, Djibouti, Bulgaria, Japan, British Virgin, Belgium, France, Seychelles Island, Jordan, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Sudan, Panama, Bahamas, Bermuda, New Zealand, Morocco, Belize, Malta, Bangladesh, Czechoslovakia, Cayman Islands, Ukraine, Bahrain, Japan, South Korea, Nigeria, Saint Vincent, Kyrgyzstan, Bermuda, Poland, Malaysia, Spain, Philippines, Finland, Luxembourg, Austria, Algeria, Thailand, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Latvia, Channel Island, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Ireland.

It may be mentioned here that, the UAE is now considered by the EU to be a high-risk country presenting strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering countering the financing of terrorism regimes. The blacklisting of the UAE follows concerns raised by MEPs that it was being used by organized criminals to hide their wealth and more recently, by Russian oligarchs to evade sanctions.

As we know that in the media, United Arab Emirates (UAE) strongly condemns terrorism and extremism in all forms. As a dependable ally of the United States and other international partners, the UAE says it works to confront and eradicate terrorism and extremism across the Middle East and worldwide. The UAE believes it cooperates closely with the US in the war on terror. This is a solid commitment between the two countries. This year the government of Dubai issued a new law to combat financial crime, trading irregularities, and terrorism financing. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai’s and UAE vice president and premier, has also set up a new body, to be known as the Dubai Economic Security Centre (DESC) to monitor financial impropriety in the emirate. However, the EU countries don’t feel the UAE is doing enough.

This grotesque crime involved both the USA and the UAE but the harm was done solely to the people of the USA. Crimes take all shapes and sizes. White-collar crime is less emotive than crimes against humanity.  On a large scale, this is known as terrorism. This is not textbook terrorism. The news channels were not witnessing the falling of the WTC towers. It is still ‘long term’ and uncontroversial terrorism. Apart from taking human lives, these criminal characteristics also involved counterfeiting, criminal product tampering, adulteration, racketeering, conspiracy to defraud, money laundering, and smuggling. This is an account of one such transnational organized crime-terror nexus originating from and with a sustained presence in Dubai.

It should be mentioned here that the crime of terrors took place on American soil but was carried out by Dubai entities, which till now has gone largely undetected and was perpetrated under a perfect disguise over a decade.

For criminals and contrary to the good image UAE likes to perceive, Dubai is widely seen and lived in as a facilitation hub for making a crime empire and financial interests which span the globe. It is one place in the world that is the nucleus of high-end criminality and the source of your funds is rarely questioned.

The organized crime Index recognizes money laundering and terrorist financing as a large-scale, systemic risk in the UAE and the country has become a global center for money laundering. The financial services watchdog put Dubai on the grey list and this year on the black list.

The UAE Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) analyses suspicious transactions and activities that may involve money laundering, financing of terrorism, and related criminal activities. Recently Dubai started to take seriously in bringing criminals to justice. Illicit money transfers, wire fraud, criminal conspiracy – these are the bread and butter cases of the US federal system and the UAE. Are they not? Hence Dubai’s arrests of Raffaele Imperiale (an Italian criminal and a member of the Camorra. He is considered by the authorities as one of the most important drug traffickers affiliated with the Camorra) and perusing Kinahans for international drugs trafficking. All three Kinahans were named as international criminals by the US Department of the Treasury, which placed financial sanctions on them.

It is understood after the arrest and bail in Dubai they have all fled to other safe havens.

Although white-collar criminals like John Barksdale and Vitaliy Dubinin (both wanted by US authorities and now residents of Dubai), did not commit atrocities to human life so it is guessed they may feel safe to stay in Dubai.

Dubai soon announced that it will legislate a specialized court to hear cases relating to alleged money laundering and other financial crime. No sooner did it then become evident from a leaked report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) this year of Russian illicit and sanctioned funds pouring into Dubai, despite so many on US sanctioned and black list.

These are the wanted criminals and suspects who hide out in Dubai to avoid facing justice. And this is the irony of Dubai where actual crime is low (high ranking on the safe cities index) but there is no shortage of wanted criminals living there and plenty of double messaging to the world about what it will do to reduce financial crimes. Absolutely hypocritical. These criminals living in Dubai are making their presence felt to the world. By enlarge, as long as the media spotlight is not on them, they are the untouchables and the UAE will make sure that remains the case.

Please read the full report in this link.

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