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Kinahan gang will not be protected from US pressure on the UAE

Oil-rich Abu Dhabi depends on US for security and will not want to attract its disfavour

Organising boxing and martial arts fights is a good way to ingratiate yourself with the ruling families in the “patriarchal, somewhat macho” Gulf States, according to an expert on the region.

However, Daniel Kinahan's links with high-profile figures from the world of professional fighting will not protect him and his family from the pressure the United States is now putting on the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to Christopher Davidson, an associate fellow with the London-based Henry Jackson Society.

Last week the US authorities announced they were imposing sanctions on Christopher Kinahan and his sons, Daniel and Christopher jnr, who for years have been living and operating openly from Dubai, one of the seven emirates in the UAE.

However, on Thursday the UAE authorities announced they were freezing the assets of the Kinahan gang, whom the US has deemed a transnational organised crime group.


"The UAE will continue to pursue its own investigations and work in close collaboration with relevant authorities in the US, UK, Ireland and Spain in this case," the UAE government said in a statement.

The Kinahans have for years been living and operating openly from Dubai, which is also home to the major boxing business MTK Global Sports Management LLC. Daniel Kinahan is close to major names who in turn deal with MTK.

In the patriarchal, somewhat macho culture of the UAE, martial arts and fighting have a greater value than they have in the West, according to Davidson.

"In Abu Dhabi [the most powerful of the UAE's emirates] they love all these ultimate fight clubs and things like that. Over in Saudi Arabia, [it is] wrestling, martial arts. The rulers, the tough guys, these hard men, crown princes, they like this kind of stuff."

Involvement in organising fighting events “is a good way to ingratiate yourself with the political elite”, Davidson said. “You are going to get key ruling family members turning up at your matches.”

While the older generation of Gulf ruler, such as the current ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (72), was more into horse racing, the younger members of the Gulf's royal families are a "different breed" and like a different kind of sport, Davidson told The Irish Times.

At boxing and mixed martial arts events, the organisers would be rubbing shoulders with the “hard-line guys who have taken over in the Gulf now”, he said.

But despite any senior connections the Kinahans may have, the US announcement of last week means that Dubai regime will no longer feel it can protect the Dublin crime family, Davidson said.

Oil-rich Abu Dhabi is dependent on the US for security reasons and will be anxious not to attract its disfavour. And when Abu Dhabi puts pressure on Dubai, the latter is not in a position to resist. “Dubai has no meaningful political autonomy now, or very, very little,” Davidson said.

Grey economy

The tax-free, low-regulation zones that Dubai created over the past number of decades, and where the Kinahans have established companies involved in the international trading of foodstuffs, are key to the development and prosperity of the emirate under its current ruler.

Maktoum has overseen the development of Dubai as a “no-questions-asked trading entrepôt” that has taken a laissez-faire attitude towards regulation to “new 21st-century extremes”, Davidson said.

Somali pirates, the sanctioned regime in Iran, and more recently Russian oligarchs are among the customers with whom the emirate has been happy to do business.

"Many people in the West don't fully appreciate that there is this whole other global economy out there, the grey economy, that is enormous, stretching from Russia to Bulgaria, the Gulf States, all the offshore islands, it is absolutely vast."

The free zones in Dubai have allowed all manner of companies to operate with impunity for years, with major international banks and multinationals such as Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft sharing the "offshore" advantages of the zones with some of the globe's most dubious actors.

“Dubai is resistant to international media pressure. Their own ruler has been dragged through the gutter by our media in recent years. It doesn’t really matter to them. All that matters is pressure coming from Abu Dhabi, and in turn all that Abu Dhabi really responds to is US pressure, as [the US is] their ultimate security guarantor.”

If the Kinahans are eventually made to leave Dubai, it will not be because it is something that Dubai wants, Davidson said.

“It is not good for its economy, for its reputation as a grey economy-friendly hub, or in this case a criminal economy hub, open for business. But in the pecking order, [Dubai] is below Abu Dhabi.”

Abu Dhabi will want to deal with the Kinahan controversy as quickly as possible and show the US that it is a reliable partner, he said. The Kinahans “miscalculated somehow, and are likely to pay the consequences of that now”.

Leaked documents

Leaked documents shared with The Irish Times by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists show that a Dubai company owned by the Kinahan brothers was assigned staff by an authority running one of the free zones in Dubai.

Davidson said it was not unusual for the authorities that run the free zones in Dubai to assign staff to companies setting up there, to help them liaise with the local regime as part of an overall package.

He also said the local sponsors or partners of companies set up by foreign investors in the UAE often act for tens or hundreds of companies.

Dubai is playing a “very careful game” in its dealings with the grey economy and the West, and has a track record of being savvy, dynamic and moving quickly with the times. There is a huge movement of wealth under way out of Russia and into the emirate, and Dubai has positioned itself as a cryptocurrency hub, he said.

Enterprise Ireland maintains a permanent office in Dubai, and the Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, led a trade mission to Saudi Arabia and the emirates in November of last year.

The UAE “is the second biggest Arab economy and it is growing”, said Davidson, and it may soon outgrow its neighbour Saudi Arabia. “Not to do business with it is shooting yourself in the foot.”

"On the other hand, they don't like us, or respect us," Davidson added. "In the long term they are drifting away from us. In the long term, China, Russia are more attractive economic and security partners [for them] than the West."