Property leaks

Editorial Board
Thursday, May 16, 2024

A global collaborative investigative journalism project by the OCCRP, ‘Dubai Unlocked’, has revealed the ownership of properties of the global elite in Dubai. The list includes politically exposed figures, globally sanctioned individuals, alleged money launderers etc. Pakistanis have also been identified on the list and their combined value has been estimated at around $11 billion. The project is based on data that provides a detailed overview of hundreds of thousands of properties in Dubai and information about their ownership or usage, largely from 2020 and 2022. For data journalists around the world, this data dump is a goldmine. However, this data is in many ways the least problematic despite some sensational angles taken due to political allegiances. These are not leaks related to offshore accounts but properties in people’s names that may or may not have been declared. In Pakistan, many politicians and others whose names have been revealed in these leaks have clarified that their properties are already declared. Now it is for the FBR and tax authorities to determine who has declared their assets and who has not, and then go about it as per law.

More than anything else, perhaps, it is important to see such reports and data journalism initiatives as further affirmations of just how stark the wealth disparities are around the world. The current data dump is not just about Pakistan or about one city where property is bought but about the recurring feature of an economic system that favours a handful of people in every society – leaving the rest to hold on to scarce resources. Oxfam’s annual report, Inequality Inc, explores the disparity between the uber-wealthy and the rest of society. According to the report, “since 2020, five billion people have become poorer, while the world’s five richest men have more than doubled their fortunes – at a rate of $14 million per hour. Meanwhile, people worldwide face a prolonged cost-of-living crisis, climate breakdown, and conflict. Many are still reeling from the pandemic and working harder and longer hours, often for poverty wages in precarious and unsafe jobs.” Collectively, the richest one per cent of the world owns 43 per cent of all its financial assets. In some regions, the inequality is even more concentrated, with the richest one per cent owning half of all financial wealth in Asia. But the majority of global private wealth, an estimated 69 per cent, remains concentrated in the Global North and, as per Oxfam, it has now pulled further ahead of the Global South for the first time in 25 years.

It is important to note that reports such as the OCCRP’s recent project are an effort at showing how important data is, and that data in itself does not judge: your name may be in the Property Leaks but that could well be a function of legal ownership of property. This is not – and should not be taken as – an effort at vilifying property owners. What it does do is provide publicly-owned information to the people in one place. In any case, anyone who is even remotely politically exposed should be upfront about what they own and where, especially if they have already declared their assets. The larger point is that this is not an equal world, and never has been. Every year we see reports on how rich the rich are. This is just a reminder.