Manchester City owner helps lure more Russian tycoons to UAE | football news

Outside the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan is best known as the owner of English soccer champion Manchester City. At home, he is deputy prime minister and a powerful member of the royal family.

But Sheikh Mansour also has a behind-the-scenes role that has become increasingly important in recent months: helping manage relationships with wealthy Russians looking to move money to the United Arab Emirates, according to multiple people familiar with the engagement. Abu Dhabi with the Russians, who requested anonymity as the information is not public.

While Sheikh Mansour has long been involved in cultivating relations between the UAE and Russia, the importance and complexities of that position have increased since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the people said.

Even though the US, EU and other countries have imposed thousands of new financial restrictions on Russia, making it the most sanctioned nation in the world, the United Arab Emirates has not imposed any. Officials in the Middle Eastern nation have taken the stance that Abu Dhabi respects international law but is not bound by measures put in place by specific countries and that the UAE has the right to adopt its own policies, several people familiar with their statement said. thought.

Other US allies, including Israel and India, have taken a similar position.

However, that approach has fueled concern among some Western officials who are worried about holes in their own sanctions programs. Earlier this month, US Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo raised Washington’s concerns about moving assets from Russian tycoons to the UAE in a call with UAE officials, they said. two people with knowledge of the discussions.

Senior Russian government officials, wealthy businessmen and financial executives are increasingly approaching Sheikh Mansour and his office for help in managing UAE government processes, several people said, adding that the Russians have become more interested. in investing in the Middle Eastern nation since the invasion of Ukraine.

Some are looking for penthouses in Dubai, while others want to buy luxury cars or need help opening bank accounts and finance firms, they said.

The Ministry of Presidential Affairs, led by Sheikh Mansour, has provided further assistance since the invasion, the people said.

UAE officials see Sheikh Mansour’s efforts as part of the government’s broader strategy to attract global business and maintain strategic ties with East and West, according to several of the people.

The Russia-UAE relationship is particularly relevant given their cooperation within the OPEC+ alliance of oil exporting nations, they said.

Still, Sheikh Mansour’s continued work demonstrates the delicate balancing act that UAE officials are trying to achieve. On the one hand, they want to continue to welcome the flow of Russian money, some from tycoons but a large part from ordinary citizens with no ties to the Kremlin. On the other hand, they are sensitive to how Western allies who have increased sanctions against Vladimir Putin, as well as a swath of Russian individuals and companies, view it.

“We have this clash of our friends and allies,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati academic based in the United Arab Emirates. “We don’t want to go out of our way to displease Washington, but we won’t bow to them either. There are also many oligarchs with investments in the West.”

The Presidential Affairs Ministry did not return calls seeking comment and the UAE Foreign Ministry declined to comment. Efforts to reach Sheikh Mansour through Manchester City and his offices were unsuccessful. A spokesman for the US Treasury Department declined to comment.

Earlier this year, a spokesperson for the UAE’s Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Executive Office told Bloomberg that the country will continue to seek deeper collaboration with foreign partners to monitor international money flows. .

royal billionaire

Brother of the UAE’s de facto ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, Sheikh Mansour, 51, is one of the country’s most powerful royals. . Before the invasion of Ukraine, he accompanied MBZ to various meetings with Russian companies. In 2019, he was present when MBZ met with Putin in Abu Dhabi.

MBZ remains the final authority on high-level diplomatic relations with Putin and Russia, the people said.

A billionaire in his own right, Sheikh Mansour is chairman of the central bank of the United Arab Emirates. He also sits on the board of other companies, including state oil giant Adnoc and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority sovereign wealth fund, which oversees more than $800bn, according to data compiled by Global SWF.

At home, he is a sponsor of athletics and supports popular events, from soccer to horse racing to long-distance running. Since taking control of Manchester City in 2008, the club has risen to prominence, winning a host of trophies and becoming one of the most valuable football franchises in the world.

More visits

Russians ranked fourth among tourists to Dubai in the first two months of 2022 with around 137,000, more than double the previous year, although below pre-pandemic levels, according to the Dubai government.

Even though the UAE has refrained from imposing sanctions on Russia, some Emiratis, including Khaldoon Al Mubarak, chief executive of the Mubadala Investment Co. sovereign wealth fund, and Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to Washington, have tried to reassure the US and the UK. and European officials.

At a finance conference in Dubai last month, Al Mubarak said Mubadala, which has significant exposure to the United States, will avoid investing in Russia for now, becoming the first Middle Eastern wealth fund chief to offer public comment on war. The move was purely commercial and should not be considered a political decision, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Mubadala, where Sheikh Mansour is vice president, said in an emailed statement that it had stopped any further investment in Russia “given the situation” but did not provide further details.

Still, Western officials have welcomed Mubadala’s comments, seeing them as evidence of the UAE’s concern about secondary sanctions on anyone doing business with sanctioned Russian entities, according to some of the people.

“The US government has illicit finance watchers on high alert and has told the UAE that they are watching closely, they don’t want to catch anyone, more to prevent it,” said Kirsten Fontenrose, who was senior director for Gulf affairs at the White House Country Office. Security Council during the Trump administration.

delicate diplomacy

The United Arab Emirates will benefit from its more welcoming stance towards Russian money, but has come under scrutiny in the past for entries linked to people sanctioned by other nations. The government is under increased pressure since the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, a global anti-money laundering body, placed the nation in March on its “grey list” for failing to monitor money coming into the country. strictly enough.

Relations between the United Arab Emirates and the United States have soured recently. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia want the United States to do more to counter missile attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen. Meanwhile, the two Gulf countries have so far rejected Washington’s requests to increase oil production and cut prices.

Jodi Vittori, a Georgetown University professor who studies the nexus between financial flows and US national security, said disagreements over sanctions policy will remain a thorny issue.

“If the world cracks down further on illicit Russian flows and that is the foundation of these economies, the US may have to accept that it will have less influence in advancing these diplomatic relations,” he said.

–With assistance from Abeer Abu Omar, Jennifer Jacobs, Nick Wadhams and Daniel Flatley.

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