UAE steps up support of global quest to bring fugitives to justice

Tighter border controls, asset freezing and fast-track money laundering courts are helping to crack crime rings

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Counter terrorism and anti-money laundering operations will be stepped up in the UAE with new extradition deals planned with several countries and several cross-border training operations.

Details of a renewed commitment to fight international crime syndicates were revealed in Al Manara – a government anti-financial crime newsletter from the Ministry of Justice.

More than 145 international fugitives were brought to justice in the Emirates in 2021, thanks largely to co-operation between national governments, anti-crime agencies and Interpol.

The total number of extradition requests set by the UAE increased by almost 380 per cent between 2019 and 2021, signalling a new era of international co-operation against financial crime.

“The ministry has made significant strides in partnership with judicial counterparts, including the recent conclusion of extradition agreements with the Netherlands and Belgium,” said justice minister Abdullah Al Nuaimi.

“Since money laundering and terrorist financing techniques continue to evolve, we are constantly enhancing our approach.

“By updating key legislative instruments and co-ordinating with other UAE authorities such as the Financial Intelligence Unit and the Ministry of Interior, we have been able to implement these changes effectively.

“Collectively, we achieved a lot in a short time span, but our work is not finished.

“We are firmly committed to the national objective of maintaining a strong, effective, and sustainable anti-money laundering and counter funding of terrorism system, as well as sharing information with our counterparts to confront cross-border financial crime.”

Record numbers of international fugitives wanted for various crimes were rounded up in the UAE in 2021 and repatriated to face justice in their home nations.

High-profile arrests included Raffaele Imperiale, 46, alleged to be a leading figure in the feared Camorra organised crime syndicate in Naples and wanted for numerous gangland crimes, including the sale of two stolen Van Gogh paintings.

Other arrests included that of Leon Cullen, one of Britain’s most wanted criminals, extradited to the UK in February 2021 after two years on the run in Dubai.

Cullen, 33, was returned to the UK in a joint operation with UAE police, Britain’s National Crime Agency and Interpol.

He was sentenced to 22 and half years for his role at the head of a crime gang responsible for supplying drugs and firearms.

Effective disruption is at the core of the UAE’s ability to freeze and confiscate assets, the justice report said.

It said the UAE focused on learning from international counterparts, including the United States, the European Union and established a partnership with the UK’s National Economic Crime Centre.

The joint operation will run an exercise designed to combat the smuggling of significant volumes of cash and gold from UK airports.

A smart mobile passenger inspection unit has been launched at land and sea border crossings and airports in the UAE to detect contraband.

The unit has six advanced inspection devices: body scanners, luggage scanners, drugs and explosives scanners, radiation detectors, metal detectors and counterfeit document detectors.

The technology is leading to improved detection rates of smuggling operations for currencies, precious metals and stones.

Since July 2019, the national Financial Intelligence Unit received almost 6,000 requests for information from law enforcement agencies, while the use of financial intelligence has increased about 500 per cent.

In 2021, UAE law enforcement combined to halt a gang responsible for forged documentation involved in the smuggling of prohibited substances.

It led to the arrest of the suspects involved and the confiscation of more than Dh25 million of illicit goods.

Co-working between Emirati authorities and a major global technology company also shut down a large-scale counterfeiting operation and seized more than 207,000 illicit items.

Record haul of fake cigarettes seized

Other major anti-crime operations included the largest single seizure of smuggled cigarettes, preventing the loss of more than Dh45 million in tax revenue.

The report said special money-laundering courts established in Abu Dhabi and Dubai had helped accelerate prosecutions, with resolutions in place to establish similar facilities in Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah.

“Accurate and timely information remains paramount to effective collaboration in undertaking swift arrests and effective punishments of criminals,” the justice report said.

“The UAE’s justice and law enforcement authorities, as well as the Financial Intelligence Unit, continue to focus intently on improving the use of accurate and timely intelligence and data in order to prevent financial crime.

“The FIU has recently seen significant improvements in its operational resources and technological capabilities, reforming its internal procedures and increasing human resources by more than 85 per cent compared to previous years.”

Updated: February 15, 2022, 4:37 PM