A new data leak has revealed how rich Russians with Maltese citizenship take up residences in the tax haven of Dubai. 

The leak, called Dubai Unlocked, features four Russians who bought Maltese passports. 

The dataset contains hundreds of thousands of properties in Dubai and information about their ownership or usage, largely from 2020 and 2022.

Two of the names found in the leak are closely linked to a wealthy sanctioned Russian MP called Grigory Anikeev.

Anikeev has been slapped with sanctions by the EU, US and Canada for his support of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Grigory Anikeev. Photo: Russian Duma.Grigory Anikeev. Photo: Russian Duma.

Olga Poliakova, the mother of Anikeev’s son, was granted Maltese citizenship in 2016. 

Several years after becoming a Maltese citizen, transaction data obtained from Dubai Land Department and property retailers shows Poliakova went on a spending spree in the United Arab Emirates, buying up two properties worth approximately €1 million, property and transaction data from Dubai shows. 

Poliakova is not the only Maltese passport buyer linked to Anikeev featuring in the data. 

Irina Kupareva who also shares a child with Anikeev, followed the same pattern as Poliakova in buying a Maltese passport and a Dubai property. 

Henley & Partners, who were the concessionaires for the Maltese citizenship program, initially questioned how Kupareva could afford to buy citizenship due to her relatively modest declared net worth of almost €1.3 million.

Almost a third of this wealth was declared as being “a gift from a friend,” internal e-mail correspondence from Henley & Partners says. Kupareva eventually submitted a gift agreement stating that the money came from an associate of Anikeev, and was granted citizenship in 2015.

She shows up in the Dubai data as the owner of a property worth around €1 million. 

The dataset was obtained by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), a non-profit organisation based in Washington, D.C., that researches international crime and conflict.

It was then shared with Norwegian financial outlet E24 and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which coordinated an investigative project with dozens of media outlets from around the world, including Times of Malta.

'Malta responsible for due diligence'

Responding to questions about the due diligence processes carried out on Poliakova and Kupareva, a spokesperson for Henley & Partners said the responsibility lies with the government. 

“We have no legal obligation to do any compliance checks, and although we have, as a firm, invested significant time and capital over the years in creating a corporate structure that is wedded to best practice governance and the highest levels of due diligence, there is only so much that a private firm such as Henley & Partners can do when it comes to due diligence,” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for Henley & Partners said the full burden of due diligence is on the government.A spokesperson for Henley & Partners said the full burden of due diligence is on the government.

“Sovereign states, on the other hand, have the investment capability and tools necessary to truly understand the level of risk relating to any individual applicant.

“This is precisely why the full burden of due diligence is placed on the sovereign state, and not on private companies.

"In this instance, any checks on donor funds would have been conducted by the Malta government agency responsible for the citizenship program at the time,” the spokesperson said. 

Another “Maltese” Russian with links to sanctioned individuals is Venera Gafarova

Gafarova’s sister is married to Rustam Minnikhanov.

Minnikhanov was sanctioned by the United States over his role as chairman of the Tupolev Public Joint Stock Company, a company which, according to the sanctions listing, produces strategic bombers for Russia’s armed forces.

Rustam Minnikhanov (right) during a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photo: Kremlin.Rustam Minnikhanov (right) during a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photo: Kremlin.

The US sanctions note how much of Minnikhanov’s property was formally registered under his wife, Gulsina, who is Gafarova's sister.

Gafarova became a Maltese citizen in 2016, and showed up as the controlling party of a property in Dubai.

Pavel Grachev who was sanctioned by the US last year, also features in the Dubai data.

Grachev, who became a Maltese citizen in 2016, is the former general director of Polyus, the largest producer of gold in Russia and one of the world's largest gold mining companies.

Pavel Grachev is a former general director of Polyus.Pavel Grachev is a former general director of Polyus.

All individuals mentioned in this article were contacted for comment, but none responded.

The Maltese citizenship scheme’s loose residency requirements have often been criticised by the EU.

A 2021 investigation by Times of Malta together with the Daphne Caruana Galizia foundation found that the citizens would spend an average of just 16 days in Malta.

Dubai is synonymous as a destination for the wealthy and was only recently removed from the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list.

It was placed on the grey list in 2022, over deficiencies in its anti-money laundering regime.

William Bourdon, who specialises in corporate and criminal law, said it is a fact that many of the world’s corrupt leaders – ranging from African heads of states to Russian oligarchs, have made a strategic choice to consider Dubai as the “place to be”, as it offers them “legal tranquillity”.

Who else features?

Key findings from the international investigation show that the following promienent names also have interests in Dubai property:

Candido Nsue Okomo, the former head of Equatorial Guinea’s scandal-plagued national oil company, who is under investigation for money laundering in Spain. 

All roads lead to Dubai. Photo: Ole Martin Wold.All roads lead to Dubai. Photo: Ole Martin Wold.

Dženis Kadrić, a former policeman who was arrested in Bosnia in February on suspicion of participation in organized crime, drug smuggling, and money laundering. He was released in May but remains under investigation. 

Shwan Mohammad Almulla, an Iraqi-born British national who was indicted in the U.S. in 2021 over a bribery scheme to obtain millions in reconstruction contracts for Iraq.

Joseph Johannes Leijdekkers, a 32-year-old also known as ‘Chubby Jos’ who is on the European Union’s Most Wanted List for alleged narcotics trafficking. 

Joseph Johannes Leijdekkers. Photo: Europol.Joseph Johannes Leijdekkers. Photo: Europol.

Danilo Vunjao Santana Gouveia, a Brazilian businessman who goes by Dubaiano.  Indicted on charges of money laundering and fraud for allegedly running a massive Bitcoin pyramid scheme in his home country. 

This article was produced with support from OCCRP and the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation.

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