Gulf state seen as possible destination for hidden assets of former Arab leaders
Anti-corruption groups have asked authorities in the UAE to take action over possible transfer of assets here by fallen Arab rulers and their loyalists, seeking a haven after uprisings.
International anti-graft body Transparency International and rights group Sherpa this month asked the UAE central bank's Anti-Money Laundering and Suspicious Cases Units (AMLSCU) to identify any funds connected to Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his family.
Transparency International is also concerned about assets from Hosni Mubarak, his family and associates held in the UAE - one of the destinations campaigners suspect for any money moved in the final days before Mubarak fell or held for many years.
Ben Ali fled Tunisia on January 14 in the face of an uprising against corruption, poverty and political repression, prompting European Union countries to say they would freeze any assets they had. Tunisia has since said it wants to recover those assets, which it considers stolen.
After protests led to Mubarak's resignation on February 11, Egyptian authorities took measures to freeze his foreign assets.
Arwa Hassan, Transparency International's Senior Programme Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, said the group was trying to encourage the UAE and others to investigate.
"What we are trying to do is exert pressure on certain stakeholders to take action," Hassan said, adding there was no specific reason to suspect transfers to the UAE during Ben Ali and Mubarak's final days in power.
UAE officials have not commented on the issue and officials at the central bank unit did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment.
In January the Dubai Financial Services Authority, the financial regulator for the emirate of Dubai, ordered financial firms to be on alert for potential funnelling of funds from Tunisia, expressing concern over last minute asset flight.
Carlo Fedrigoli, a Dubai-based lawyer at DLA Piper who advised Sherpa, said European Union countries had been more forthright in declaring measures to track Ben Ali's money.
"Other authorities in other jurisdictions took immediate steps," he said, adding the UAE had not responded yet to the request to the central bank unit. "But there are processes in place and maybe the UAE central bank feel they are not required to disclose what they are doing."
But Fedrigoli cited UAE action last year over James Ibori, a Nigerian politician wanted in Britain over corruption allegations who Dubai emirate arrested in May.
Ben Ali is currently in exile with some members of his family in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and both he and Mubarak were familiar and friendly figures for Gulf rulers.