Russian oligarchs fleeing sanctions seek home in Dubai

Several brokers are reporting a significant increase in the number of Russian billionaires looking for multimillion-dollar homes in the city.

As millions of Ukrainian refugees flee their war-torn country to Poland and Western Europe, Russian oligarchs are fleeing – via their luxury yachts and private jets – to another place: Dubai.

Displaced by sanctions and unwelcome in the West, Russian billionaires are on the hunt for luxury properties in Dubai, lured by the emirate’s glitzy beaches, flexible visa program and promised neutrality on Ukraine, according to several Dubai-based real estate brokers who showed properties to representatives of Russian billionaires.

“We are getting more and more requests from Russian oligarchs,” says Şerif Nadi Varlı, the main real estate broker at Vartur Real Estate, which has offices in Dubai and Turkey, another top destination for wealthy Russians seeking to escape punishment. “These kind of people are looking for bigger investments, they are afraid to keep their assets in European countries.”

“We’ve seen some interest from the oligarchs not just to buy property in Dubai, but to fully reside in Dubai,” says another broker, who asked to remain anonymous for the sake of breaking confidentiality agreements. A third Dubai-based property manager (who also asked to remain anonymous) said his firm had worked with “multiple” Russian billionaires looking for homes.

The oligarchs will be in familiar company. At least three Russian billionaires and a recent landing already own properties in the emirate’s city-state, according to data provided by the Washington, DC-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies. Fertilizer magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev owns a $29.5 million property in the Palm Jumeirah, a luxury archipelago of palm-shaped man-made islands. His ultra-wealthy neighbors in the islands include Albert Avdolyan and his wife Elena, who own two properties worth a combined $19 million, and Andrei Molchanov, who owns a $26.5 million house. (Molchanov filed Forbes List of the world’s billionaires in 2022.) Pavel Durov, the 37-year-old founder of the messaging app Telegram, also lives there.

Potential new residents of Dubai appear to be shopping in a more expensive market: Nadi Varlı’s most expensive property offered by Vartur, also in the Palm Jumeirah, has an asking price of $68 million. “In the super luxury segment, we have seen crazy, crazy transactions. Like prices you’ve never seen before,” says Alexander von Sayn-Wittgenstein, CEO of brokerage boutique LUXCAPITAL, which facilitated the purchase of a $76 million home, still in the Palm Jumeirah, more early this week.

Brokers who spoke to Forbes identified several neighborhoods, in addition to the famous Palm Jumeirah, popular with wealthy Russian buyers. Top of the list is Jumeirah Bay, a six million square foot man-made island where villas fetch up to $30 million. Other common destinations include Emaar Beachfront, whose luxury apartment buildings overlook the Port of Dubai, and Emaar Beachfront, home to the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa, and the second-tallest shopping mall. mall of the world, the Dubai Mall. Dubai Marina, which includes the commercial and tourist waterfront La Mer and the luxury waterfront development Jumeirah Beach Residence, is also a success.

“These great names [developers] in Dubai tell [me] that Russians are buying a lot,” says Nadi Varlı, who mentioned Emaar Properties – the developer behind Emaar Beachfront and the Burj Khalifa – among companies that cater to wealthy Russians.

Russians moving to Dubai could seek to take advantage of the United Arab Emirates’ “golden visa” program, which offers long-term residency to foreigners if they invest at least 10 million dirhams ($2.7 million ) in a local company or investment fund. The United Arab Emirates liberalized its visa program in early 2021 to encourage “investors, professionals, special talents and their families” to move to Dubai. It also introduced a citizenship-by-investment program in January 2021 that allows foreigners to acquire Emirati citizenship by investing in “property”, but it is still unclear how much potential citizens need to invest to obtain it, and what types of goods are included.

“It is indeed a lifetime residence granted to you by the government of Dubai [and] it’s very affordable for a lot of these affluent Russians,” says Abdullah Alajaja, CEO of Dubai real estate brokerage firm Driven Properties. Alajaj’s company recorded a 71% increase in the net value of properties bought by Russians in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period last year. “Many of the people we worked with were based in London, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Israel, and are now looking to relocate to Dubai,” says Alajaja, “whether for their own business, [or] move their families and make the decision to reside in Dubai.

In recent weeks, several yachts belonging to Russian oligarchs have visited the port of Dubai. the Mrs Gu The superyacht, owned by sanctioned steel oligarch and State Duma member Andrei Skoch and valued at $156 million by yacht valuation experts VesselsValue, was last seen in Dubai in early March. The 290ft superyacht Nirvanaowned by unauthorized nickel magnate Vladimir Potanin, and the $82 million Titan, owned by steel magnate Alexander Abramov, are currently docked at Mina Rashid, a man-made cruise terminal in the northern part of the city. The two superyachts are moored next to each other, according to data from ship tracking service MarineTraffic. Two other yachts owned by oligarchs, Anatoly Lomakin’s $58 million Sea & Us and Anatoly Sedykh’s $73 million Hermitagewere also last seen in Dubai in March and April.

The Mina Rashid terminal is ultimately owned by the government of Dubai, which also owns another marina popular among Russian billionaires, Porto Montenegro in Tivat, Montenegro, through the Investment Corporation of Dubai. Abramovich’s $474 million yacht Solaris cruised briefly in Porto Montenegro on March 12 before sailing to Turkey, while oil and gas tycoon Vagit Alekperov’s Galactica Super Nova left the marina on March 2.

Besides their superyachts, the oligarchs also take their private planes to the Emirates. Forbes found four jets linked to sanctioned Russian billionaires – including Roman Abramovich, Arkady Rotenberg, Viktor Rashnikov and Mikhail Gutseriev – who were last tracked in Dubai or Abu Dhabi in February and March. Abramovich’s Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, registered in Aruba with tail number P4-BDL, was last seen in Dubai on March 4, after flying there from Moscow. The three jets that were last checked into Dubai flew to Dubai World Central (DWC), the city-state’s newest airport and an alternative to Dubai International, where the vast majority of scheduled flights land. Called the “airport of the future” by state-owned Dubai Airports, the DWC is still nearing completion and the only passenger flights it currently receives appear to be seasonal charters offered by four Russian airlines from various Russian cities.

It’s not just Russian billionaires flocking to Dubai’s shores, as the simply wealthy – banned from traveling to Europe – are snapping up apartments. The number of Russians owning properties in Dubai soared in March, driven by activity in the $250,000 to $500,000 price range, according to data from Dubai real estate firm Metropolitan Premium Properties cited in multiple media outlets. Russians. (Metropolitan Premium Properties did not respond to Forbes‘ request for comment). Demand is driving up prices and frustrating some buyers: Ellada Gasanova, a popular Russian fashion designer, complained on Instagram about Dubai’s expensive real estate market, according to local Russian media. (Rest assured: Gasanova would have found an apartment).

For Dubai residents, the recent increase in the number of Russian buyers is not surprising, given the history of Russian investment in the emirate. “The Dubai property market has always been a hit with Russian investors, as they have always been among the top investors in the UAE,” says Hamid Jaafri, CEO of One Investments, a real estate investment company. “Dubai has historically benefited from geopolitical instability due to its safe haven status and no doubt the [Russia-Ukraine] the crisis will benefit Dubai.

The UAE has been quick to refuse to support Western sanctions against Russia. It was one of only three countries, along with China and India, to abstain in a United Nations Security Council vote on February 25 to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine; he also abstained in an April 7 General Assembly vote to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. On March 4, the Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based financial crime watchdog, placed the UAE on its “grey list” of jurisdictions under heightened scrutiny.

The UAE’s financial ties to Russia run deep. Mubadala Investment Corporation, the UAE’s sovereign wealth fund, invested $3.6 billion in 50 Russian companies in 2022. At least two of those investments, worth nearly $400 million, are linked to sanctioned Russian billionaires: In December, Mubadala acquired a 1.9% stake in petrochemical giant Sibur, part-owned by sanctioned oligarchs Leonid Mikhelson, a billionaire, and Gennady Timchenko. Forbes estimates the stake is now worth around $220 million, down from around $500 million at the time of purchase, due to the impact of the ruble sanctions. In June, Mubadala spent $175 million to buy 2.6% of En+ Group, a listed aluminum company whose main shareholder is sanctioned billionaire Oleg Deripaska. This increased Mubadala’s stake in En+ Group to 2.86%, currently worth around $170 million, as the company’s shares fell.

At an investment conference in Dubai on March 28, Mubadala CEO Khaldoon Al Mubarak said the fund would “suspend investments” in Russia. Yet the influx of Russian oligarchs in search of luxury homes shows that the Emirates still welcomes investment from Moscow’s wealthiest.

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