UAE placed on EU blacklist in fresh blow to Kinahan drugs cartel

Country has long been used as money laundering hub, and the Kinahans have extensive business and property interests there

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been placed on the EU’s money laundering blacklist, a move gardaí hope will increase pressure on members of the Kinahan cartel still living there.

The leader of the gang, Daniel Kinahan, his father Christy and brother Christy jnr, have been living in the UAE emirate of Dubai for several years and have extensive business and real estate interests there.

The UAE is now considered by the EU to be a high-risk country “presenting strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering countering the financing of terrorism regimes”. The move is expected to put additional pressure on authorities there to take more proactive measures against the Kinahan leadership.

“Every little helps,” a senior garda said on the development. “This mightn’t be the straw the breaks the camel’s back, but that day is coming, I think.”


It caps off a terrible year for the gang, and Daniel Kinahan in particular, which started in March with the jailing of its main representative in the UK, Thomas “Bomber” Kavanagh, for 21 years.

A month later, the Garda and several US agencies announced sanctions which froze the US assets of the gang and offered rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of its leaders.

The UAE followed suit and froze Kinahan assets in Dubai. MTK Global, the boxing management company founded by Daniel Kinahan, announced its closure a short time later.

In December, Kinahan associate and mafia leader Raffaele Imperiale agreed to turn state’s evidence in Italy while a number of other close Kinahan associates have also been arrested in several countries. Irish prisons currently house about 70 serious criminals who work directly for the gang.

Boxing promoter

These setbacks have ruined Daniel Kinahan’s recent efforts to whitewash his public image and present himself as a legitimate boxing promoter. Various high-profile figures in the sport who once praised him, including heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, have publicly distanced themselves from the Dublin man in recent months.

The blacklisting of the UAE follows concerns raised by MEPs that it was being used by organised criminals to hide their wealth and by Russian oligarchs to evade sanctions.

Mairead McGuinness, the former Fine Gael MEP and now EU commissioner for financial services, said the move would help the blacklisted countries “in their efforts and protect the EU financial system and the proper functioning of our single market”.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gibraltar, Mozambique and Tanzania were also blacklisted.

‘The UAE knows if it wants to remain as an important security partner to the West it has to take more responsibility’

—  Christopher Davidson, Middle East expert with the London-based Henry Jackson Society

The move will oblige financial institutions to carry out additional checks when dealing with UAE accounts. However, its true value is in sending a message that the EU expects the UAE to do more to combat money laundering, said Christopher Davidson, a Middle East expert with the London-based Henry Jackson Society.

“I see it more as a political statement that anything else,” he told The Irish Times. “It’s about chastising the UAE on the international stage.”

The blacklisting of the UAE followed a joint investigation by over 20 European media organisations, including The Irish Times, into the use of Dubai as an investment hub by criminals, oligarchs and politicians.

Leaked records showed the Kinahans and their associates held an extensive property portfolio in the emirate as well as global import-export business.

Carrot and stick

The decision to blacklist the UAE forms part of a carrot-and-stick approach being taken by the EU towards the country, which has recently shown some increased willingness to co-operate on organised crime investigations. “The UAE knows if it wants to remain as an important security partner to the West it has to take more responsibility,” Mr Davidson said.

Europol, the EU’s police agency, recently established a formal partnership with UAE police aimed at targeting organised crime. This year the Garda also deployed a liaison officer to the country for the first time.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times