Dubai. The emirate westerners head to when they want to feel exotic, but still need to have the basic human comfort that’s afforded by having a Lamborghini within spitting distance of their knock-off Vuitton handbag.
Since it struck oil in the late 1960s, it has done what countries that discover black gold do best – prance around like Yosemite Sam, firing pistols into the air to alert rich folk that it’s open for business.
Unfortunately, like a lot of late-bloomers, Dubai has seemed to think it needs to prove itself to the big kids, and has opened itself up to so much corruption that even Lex Luthor would look kinda sidelong at it. That said, it has been named the least corrupt emirate in the UAE – but that’s a little bit like saying Hitler was a stand-up guy because his genocide wasn’t as genocide-y as Mao Zedong’s.
The root of its modern corruption isn’t entirely clear cut. It certainly doesn’t help that it’s still under the rule of a total monarchy – any time you have no elections, and you can just give high-paid government roles to family members, things start to look a bit rotten. Then there was the 1990s Gulf war which left it pretty much broke, and it had to do all kinds of grimy things to claw its way back…like a principality-sized stripper mom.
Despite the emirate making big noises about its efforts to tackle corruption, it’s difficult to ignore that it’s still riddled with dodgy practices. So, like any corrupt country, we’re gonna kick things off with our own interests in mind…
15. There’s Little To No Freedom Of Press
This one is understandable, really, isn’t it? Obviously, if you’re going to do dastardly, underhanded things, you don’t want people running off and telling everyone about it – that’s just not playing the game.
As a result, up until 2007, Dubai was regularly locking up journalists for minor infractions. Seriously, if a reporter so much as made notes about a possible scandal, they were summarily thrown into jail for as much as 2 months. This practice ended when the government approved a directive, advising that journalists should not be jailed, just given hefty fines. Unfortunately this still means journalists are finding it difficult to investigate human rights abuses, because they’re constantly being hit with fines.
This doesn’t just affect traditional press outlets, either. In 2013, the authorities arrested a US citizen alongside some UAE citizens for uploading a parody video to YouTube that depicted an unfavorable image of Dubai. And yet, Pewdie Pie is still at liberty.
14. The Police Have Free Rein to Torture
The thing about living in a corrupt principality that thrives on the whims of the rich is that someone’s making money from the prison system (something that, by the way, happens in the US and the UK too), and the government turns a blind eye to whatever needs to be done to elicit a confession.
Back in 2013, British musician Karl Williams was pulled over by police while on holiday in Dubai, dragged from his car, and repeatedly tasered in the testicles while the police shouted at him to tell them where the drugs were. If this were a light hearted situation, there could be a joke made about ejaculating lightning bolts, but it isn’t, so there will be no jokes about supercharged electric semen either.
The police planted a synthetic drug in his car, and he was sent to a prison run by Russian gangsters who used HIV-positive inmates to rape others as a punishment. After a year inside, Williams was pardoned following intervention by the UK government.
This is hardly the only example, either – there are multiple tales of police extracting confessions with brutality, threats, and no evidence whatsoever. It’s like a 70s cop show, except real and terrifying, and the pimps don’t have floppy hats.
13. They Won’t Let You Leave
Money is a serious business in Dubai. Hell, some scholars believe that the name of the emirate itself comes from the word for “money”. So while it’s happy to turn a blind eye to the underhand dealings that make it richer, if an ordinary expat has a bit of debt, Dubai loses its collective shit.
For a lot of people, working in Dubai is something of a fantasy scenario, because while things are going well, it’s like a Candy Land where the roads are paved with gold and your nipples are made from diamonds. But if you want to quit your job (like any normal rational human being would) your employer has to inform your bank, and if you have any debt whatsoever, your accounts are frozen and you are forbidden from leaving Dubai. If your savings don’t cover the debt, and you have no money, you get sent to prison, usually for about 6 months…because Dubai is like Disneyland with a Dickensian underbelly.
Once expats get into this situation, it’s a vicious circle. You can’t leave, but you can’t get accommodation because all your accounts are frozen and you have no way to legitimately make money. It’s not part of the glittering tourism videos, but there are broke expats living in the sand dunes or at the airport.
Karen Andrews experienced this first hand and said, “This isn’t a city, it’s a con-job. They lure you in telling you it’s one thing – a modern kind of place – but beneath the surface it’s a medieval dictatorship.”
12. You’re Not Allowed To Criticize The Legal System
There’s nothing most of us likes more than a nice, casual bitch about the legal system. Why, there are some of us who make up rather attractive picket signs and head out to bust some overfed justice system booty.
Not if you’re in Dubai, my friend.
We’ve barely started on this list, and it’s already pretty obvious that there’s an excess of legal system human rights violations that would make even a soulless lawyer wince. What westerners would usually do in this situation is broadcast it, bring those injustices kicking and screaming into the light. But in Dubai, if you so much as look questioningly at the justice system, things get worse for you.
It’s become standard practice now for journalists investigating justice system problems in Dubai to advise their sources that they won’t broadcast or print anything until the source has been freed. The reason for this is, anything that looks like criticism can and does sway judges in their decisions, and will see you get a heftier sentence. Even if you do eventually get pardoned, you have to bear in mind the other ways your criticism could come back to haunt you. In 2014, after 5 years spent in prison for a crime he didn’t commit (no, this isn’t the A-Team), Matt Joyce waited even longer to allow the Australian press to tell his story, because his dog was still in quarantine in Dubai, and it was likely criticism would see something go…awry.
11. Attempts to Stem Corruption Are Doomed, Because Money
Going on holiday is fine, it’s the travelling part that’s a gigantic pain in the hind quarters. TSA agents want to feel you up like a drunken prom date, everything you have in your hand luggage is a potential explosive device, and you’re not allowed to bring your millions of dollars in used, unmarked bills.
Except in Dubai.
Most countries have a limit to how much cold, hard currency you can bring into the country, because it’s an open invitation to anyone who might be a money launderer (which is far more lucrative than a regular launderer). Things work a little differently in Dubai.
In 2009, the Afganistan Vice-president Ahmad Zia Massoud rocked into Dubai with $52m in cash about his person. He was stopped by US officials, who thought that this was a slightly odd thing to be doing. However, the Dubai authorities stepped in and allowed Massoud to go on his way without even explaining where the money came from.
You see, it’s believed this kind of behavior is allowed because corrupt officials know they can’t profit from their money being kept in Afganistan, so there are regular flights on planes owned by Dubai banking firms to bring it all over.
10. Expats Are Perfectly Fine With Corruption
Corruption thrives where people simply sit back and ride a surfboard of gold on a perpetual wave of cash and hookers – the Dalai Llama said that, probably.
What’s meant by this totally genuine quotation is, if people who might benefit from corrupt behavior don’t take a moral stand against it, it’s unlikely that things are going to change. One of the issues of corruption in Dubai is not just that the expats are willing to turn a blind eye to it, it’s that they actually assume it’s normal and therefore absolutely fine and dandy.
When investigating corruption in Dubai, journalist Johann Dari came across this issue a lot. He described how, when confronted with questions about corruption and lack of democracy, expats were usually baffled, and simply excused it as the “Arab way”, before doubtlessly going back to their business of getting drunk and Scrooge McDuck-ing into pools of cash.
This wanton ignorance of the corruption that flows through Dubai’s veins was nicely summed up by a 17-year-old Dutch girl Dari interviewed, who – when asked what she thought about the corruption replied, “I try not to see”.
9. Employers Take Advantage Of The Strict Anti-Female Laws
If you’re a person of the lady persuasion, you’re probably pretty familiar with the myriad ways in which society has chosen to screw you over simply because you don’t have the last turkey in the shop swinging between your legs. Dubai goes the extra mile in this regard too.
There are a raft of laws which dictate how people – particularly women – are supposed to behave while in Dubai. No revealing clothing, no kissing in public, no extra-marital sex. It’s backward, yes, but not as backward was the fact that businessmen regularly use these laws to get western women who won’t sleep with them punished.
Why western women? Well, they’re more likely to post pictures on social media of themselves drinking, dressed in casual clothing, having fun – you know, normal people stuff. Which the Dubai authorities turn a blind eye to for as long as you’re sexually pleasing its valuable residents. Unfortunately this has also proven to be useful as evidence of “disrespecting Dubai’s laws” if you have the temerity to respect yourself and say “no” to some creeper. This has led to accusations of alcohol abuse, drug use, and has been known to lead to police investigations and having your employment reduced or terminated.
8. Property Developers Think They’re Immune
Dubai has become known as not just a playground for the oligarch class, but also home to skyscrapers so tall that it’s a wonder that visiting extraterrestrials aren’t getting into fender benders with them. Developers are constantly birthing new buildings onto the landscape, each more gaudy than the last, each trying to get closer to space.
All this constant construction brings in a lot of money for Dubai, and the authorities have – until relatively recently – allowed a lot of corruption to go unchecked in that industry. Fraudulent accounting, illegal sale of building materials, and bribery of public officials have all been contributory to the underhanded behavior that is rife.
7. Dubai’s Epic Skyscrapers Are Built On Slave Labor
Most of us have somehow come to this odd assumption that slavery is a thing of the past. It’s not. There are pockets of it all over the world, and in Dubai it’s existing in plain sight, helping the Rich Kids of Instagram take another photo of how tough #penthouselife is.
Yep, Dubai has taken a leaf out of ancient Egypt’s book (Tablet? Wall? Papyrus scroll?), and built it’s rising monoliths on the breaking backs of abused laborers.
In a 2015 documentary, BBC reporter Ben Anderson filmed Bangladeshi migrant workers, who had been lured to Dubai by agents offering well paid work, only to find that as soon as they stepped off the plane they were under the thumb of modern day slavedrivers. Their passports were confiscated, and they were forced to work 12 hour days, 6 days a week, in sweltering conditions for approximately $150 a month, which they often didn’t see a penny of for months and were barely able to eat as a result.
While the Dubai authorities publicly pretended their migrant workers were being treated well, these guys were living in squalid, cramped conditions with no running water, insufficient plumbing and no basic living amenities.
6. People Have Literally Had To Escape Corruption
Sure, there’s plenty of examples all over the world of people figuratively escaping corruption, of metaphorically casting off their shackles. Between their propensity to detaining innocent people for years, and the convenient application of laws, in Dubai sometimes you literally have to escape the corruption.
It was that way for Herve Jaubert. Jaubert was a former French spy who was tempted to Dubai by wealthy people who didn’t have anything better to spend their cash on than one of Jaubert’s luxury submarines – yep, you read that correctly. Allegedly, when the company that brought Jaubert to the UAE, Dubai World, started to get cold feet about the viability of a luxury submarine business model, they wanted a scapegoat to give them a reason to pull out. Jaubert got a visit from the Dubai state security service, underwent lengthy questioning, and was accused of fraud related offenses.
As befits a former French spy, and knowing well that he’d not get a fair trial, Jaubert hatched a plan that even McGuyver would think twice about. He had pieces of scuba gear separately shipped to him in secret over a period of weeks, put on a wetsuit followed by a woman’s abaya (a burka-like robe), shuffled out of his hotel, and headed for the beach. Once there, he swam underwater to a coast guard Outpost so he could cut the fuel lines to a police boat that he knew would pursue him, before climbing into a dinghy that he’d stashed a few days before and embarking upon a 6 hour voyage to freedom.
5. Corruption Attracts The Corrupt
The problem with having a principality that is famously corrupt, largely because the officials keep insisting that it’s not corrupt, is it tends to attract more than its fair share of dastardly and underhanded folk.
For example, in 2016, documents came to light that General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, was making some interesting purchases. Using his 2 wives as a front, Buratai went and bought two properties in Dubai, valued at a total of around $500,000. While he claimed that they were purchased through legitimate means, it was revealed that Buratai had actually siphoned funds intended for the feeding, medical care, and pay the allowances of Nigera’s armed forces, into purchasing two swanky pads. Funds taken from the pockets of soldiers at that time embroiled in conflicts with extremist Islamist insurgents.
The first property, it was also asserted, was purchased with funds Buratai obtained by setting up a fronted company that was paid to provide new vehicles to the Nigerian army, but actually supplied second hand, substandard lemons.
4. It Doesn’t Cooperate With Investigations
While Dubai has more recently tended to push the idea that it’s the least corrupt emirate in the UAE, it doesn’t seem to be at any great pains to prove it. Dubai is your schoolfriend who claimed he felt up a Russian exchange student who then had to flee the country.
French politician and all-round enemy of corruption badass, Eva Joly, called out Dubai as one of the most corrupt states currently operating. She even demanded that the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development put Dubai on it’s list of blacklisted countries on the grounds of extreme money laundering.
One of the aspects of Dubai’s corruption that Joly pointed to, was the fact that Dubai seems to think that it’s not accountable to the rest of the civilized world. During investigations into the Kabul Bank scandal (where more than $900m of laundered money was looted during the bank’s collapse), investigators found that more than $230m of the cash was being stashed in Dubai. However, the Dubai authorities refused to co-operate, leading them to describe the emirate as a “black hole of international cooperation”.
3. It Has A Severe Bling Problem
If there’s one thing that Dubai has no shortage of, it’s precious gems. Frankly, you’re probably more likely to see stones around people’s necks and on their fingers than lying around on the floor. But Dubai’s diamond problem isn’t anything to do with those encrusted in the teeth of spoiled rappers, it’s the ones passing through its ports.
The Kimberly Process – the binding agreement that governments sign up to to ensure that rough diamonds aren’t used in the financing of conflicts – is usually taken seriously by everyone involved. Rough diamond export in the past has been a bloody business, and Dubai has on occasion sent back to Africa parcels of diamonds it believes to be in breach of this agreement.
However, in 2005, it was discovered by KP investigators that Dubai was regularly receiving rough diamonds across its borders, and drastically undervaluing them so that they left the emirate at double the price at which they arrived. Once again raising suspicions that money laundering was rife in Dubai. As of 2016, Dubai was still frequently at odds with the Kimberly Process chairman, refusing to cooperate with the organization and boycotting its summits.
2. Minor Financial Issues Are Treated Ridiculously Seriously…And Corruptly
Remember when people used to pay for goods and services with things called “checks”? It was a simpler time, and you could actually buy something a few days before you actually had the money in your account, all the while cackling like some crazed financial genius. Well, if the check was processed after those few days and you didn’t have enough funds to clear it, it would be declined. This is how a check is bounced, and this is how you’re in for some serious shit if you happen to be in Dubai.
British businessman Safi Qurashi wrote an open letter from his prison cell detailing this exact problem. In 2008, a cheque he wrote bounced, and he received a visit from the police, who detained him, and handcuffed him to a chair for 8 hours while he was asked just two questions: his name, and did he sign two checks. He was then transported to a detention center where, after 5 days, he was finally able to speak to his wife. He was assigned a lawyer – who also represented a businessman he was in a legal dispute with, and was told it would all be made to go away if he dropped his case against the other client. Qurashi declined, believing he would receive a fair trial. He didn’t – his hearing took a minute, the judge didn’t look at any evidence or hear any testimony, and Qurashi was sentenced to 7 years in prison.
1. Even Its Horses Are Forced Into Corruption
Dubai has put on a pretty spectacular show for itself. Even since a financial crash in 2009, it still manages to present a facade of opulence. So what better way to appear regal than to participate in the sport of kings: race some pretty horsies.
Godolphin is the Maktoum family’s private thoroughbred horseracing stable. Collectively, Godolphin has won over 4000 races worldwide, and won a handful of the sport’s top awards. They’ve brought in millions of dollars of prize money, including winning the $10m Dubai world cup on eight occasions. But, as you’ve no doubt guessed having read the title of this article, there could be a very special secret to Godolphin’s success.
Turns out, the Maktoum family, monarchs of Dubai, had been having 11 of their horses regularly pumped full of anabolic steroids before races. It was considered widely to be the biggest scandal to hit horse racing in years. This would be enough of a problem in itself, but it seemed that the international horse racing community weren’t so much concerned that there was corruption in their midst, but that Sheik Maktoum might pull his horses – an his vast wealth – out of the sport. Nice.
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