The recent political landscape and rise of virtual assets such as cryptocurrencies and NFTs has accellerated a new wave of global regulations aimed at preventing financial crime and increasing transparency.
The UAE recently introduced new reporting requirements for certain real estate transactions. Accordingly, real estate agents, brokers and law firms (Real Estate Professionals) will have reporting duties towards the Financial Intelligence Unit in the UAE (FIU) in relation to freehold commercial and residential real estate transactions in the UAE, that are funded (in whole or in part), by either an individual or corporation, in accordance with one or more of the following methods (Regulated Transactions):
- Payments comprising a virtual asset;
- Payments where the source of such funds are derived from a virtual asset; and / or
- A single or multiple cash payment(s) equivalent to or in excess of AED 55,000.
Real Estate Professionals will be required to obtain, record and submit identification documents for all parties to a Regulated Transaction as well as other details and documentation relating to the Regulated Transaction itself.
The introduction of the above follows a reported 7,092 real estate transactions worth AED 21 billion (USD 5.72 billion) in Dubai this July 2022 - a 12 year record according to Property Finder.
The new reporting requirements are extremely significant as these build on other recent anti-money laundering initiatives by the UAE and seeks to embed best international practice within an industry which is globally susceptible to money laundering and financial crime.
Real Estate is a key sector for the majority of GCC countries which are looking to encourage inbound investment by offering attractive opportunities and incentives to both regional and international investors such as the introduction of Golden Visas in the UAE and Bahrain.
As other key global markets introduce additional and more stringent measures to combat financial crime and improve transparency (such as the introduction of the new register of beneficial ownership of overseas entities in the UK) it is vital that the GCC countries evolve quickly to embrace measures to protect against attracting illegal investments that will ultimately have a negative impact to the soundness and reputation of their economies.
However, the privacy of personal affairs remains a key element of the social and cultural fabric of the GCC. There is limited information about property ownership that is publicly available. It is likely that any shift towards a fully transparent system that is applied indiscriminately will be gradual. In the meantime, the development and implementation of more bespoke systems and regulations in the GCC will need to find a balance between these elements and best international practice.
It makes UAE one of the first countries to implement such a mechanism for real estate transactions involving virtual assets, and shows the country’s evolving approach to the global fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.