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UAE freezes assets of Kinahan drug trafficking gang

The United Arab Emirates has frozen the assets of the Kinahan drug trafficking gang, adding to international pressure on an organisation that has deep ties with boxers and promoters at the highest levels of the sport.

The Gulf state said it was continuing to investigate the Irish organised crime group in parallel with authorities in the US, UK, Ireland and Spain.

“The relevant authorities co-operate closely on cases involving foreign elements, in line with the UAE’s international commitments and national legal framework for combating illicit activity,” the government said. The asset freeze includes all personal and corporate bank accounts, one person briefed on the matter in the UAE said. 

The announcement of the asset freeze on one of Europe’s most notorious crime syndicates comes after the US Treasury last week imposed sanctions on the Kinahan group and seven of its members including its Irish leaders, Christopher Kinahan and his two sons, Daniel and Christopher Jr, who are based in Dubai.

The US also put a $5mn price on the heads of Kinahan Sr — better known as Christy or “the Dapper Don” and his sons. The US accused the Kinahans of smuggling narcotics into Europe and engaging in money laundering, frequently using Dubai as “a facilitation hub for its illicit activities”. 

Garda Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll stands beside posters of the gang’s Irish leaders after the US announced it was offering $5mn for information on the syndicate © Niall Carson/PA

The US imposed sanctions on three companies linked to the clan, including a management consultancy controlled by Daniel Kinahan and a sports management company owned by one of his associates. Two of the companies — Hoopoe Sports and Ducashew General Trading — are based in Dubai. The US also indicated that Daniel Kinahan resides on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah.

The sanctions on Daniel Kinahan, who has denied being a crime boss, have rocked the sport of boxing, where he has been credited with advising fighters and setting up bouts. 

Tyson Fury, the world heavyweight champion, said this week that the sanctions were “none of my business”. Daniel Kinahan has advised Fury in the past but the boxer said he had not done any business dealings with him “for a long time”. In 2020, Fury thanked Kinahan for setting up a contest against rival Anthony Joshua. The matches never took place. Fury and Kinahan were photographed together in Dubai in February.

MTK Global, a boxing agency co-founded by Daniel Kinahan in 2012, said on Wednesday that it was shutting down following the imposition of US sanctions on the Kinahans. The company, which has not itself been sanctioned, parted ways with Kinahan in 2017. It said it had faced “unprecedented levels of unfair scrutiny”. 

The cartel, which emerged in the late 1990s, operates across Ireland, the UK, Spain and the UAE. Irish courts have branded it as “a murderous organisation” involved in the international trafficking of drugs and firearms, the US said.

In response to the UAE move, Ireland’s minister for justice Helen McEntee said: “The net is now clearly tightening on the Kinahan Organised Crime Group.”

The UAE has come under increasing scrutiny from western partners over its record in fighting money laundering. The Financial Action Task Force, a global financial crime watchdog, last month placed the UAE on its “grey list”, stepping up its monitoring of the Gulf state’s efforts to stem flows of dirty money.

Dubai, a playground for the rich, has also attracted organised criminal gangs from the UK, as well as India and former Soviet states.

A combination of weak enforcement and investment opportunities for foreigners in sectors such as real estate and precious metals has created the perfect haven for criminals, according to a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The asset freeze targeting the Kinahans forms part of a drive to clean up the UAE’s reputation and enhance co-operation with international law enforcement.

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