UAE urged to freeze cash transfers by fallen rulers

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Anti-corruption groups have asked authorities in the United Arab Emirates to take action over possible transfer of assets by fallen Arab rulers and their loyalists seeking a haven after uprisings.

Transparency International and the rights group Sherpa this month asked the UAE central bank's Anti-Money Laundering and Suspicious Cases Units to identify any funds connected to the former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his family.

Transparency International is also concerned about assets of 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 Mr Mubarak fell from power last month.

Mr Ben Ali fled Tunisia on 14 January 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 Mr Mubarak's resignation on 11 February, Egyptian authorities took measures to freeze his foreign assets.

Arwa Hassan, of Transparency International, 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," Mr Hassan said, adding there was no specific reason to suspect transfers to the UAE during Mr Ben Ali and Mr 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 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 movements.

Dubai, a cosmopolitan Gulf trade hub, has been fighting a reputation as a haven for money laundering since the 9/11 attacks in 2001 drew attention to the relative ease of moving money through the city.

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 Mr Ben Ali's money.

"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."