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India’s wealthy splurging millions on Dubai property

DUBAI – Mr Adel Sajan is witnessing one of the biggest booms his firm has ever seen as a flood of wealthy Indians snap up US$250,000 (S$332,000) apartments in the luxury Dubai skyscrapers built by his family.

His family’s own home is a 26,000 sq ft villa in Emirates Hills – a gated residential neighbourhood often dubbed the Beverly Hills of Dubai.

“I think every second house is an Indian house over here,” the 34-year-old managing director of Danube Group said in an interview at his mansion, where the marbled living room is the size of a mini soccer field and the glass-walled garage shows off more than 15 cars, from Bentleys to Range Rovers and Lamborghinis.

The Sajans are not new money, but the family’s growing wealth and business are now being fuelled heavily by money flooding in from the sub-continent.

Indians make up 32 per cent of the firm’s customers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and they are contributing to some of the largest gains for Danube since Mr Sajan’s father founded it in the UAE three decades ago.

Reflecting one of the world’s most profound financial shifts, India saw a 4.6 per cent jump in total household wealth in 2022, UBS estimates, even as North America and China saw declines. The UAE’s easy visa policies, low taxes and proximity are making it the biggest overseas beneficiary of the South Asian country’s ascent on the money charts.

For Dubai, the funds rolling in from wealthy Indians are also helping to shore up the luxury property market because they come at a time when inflows from rich Russians – which had surged after the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine – are tapering off.

Dubai brokerage Betterhomes says Indians are the top buyers of real estate in the city, and have remained so even as Russians hit by a weaker rouble have dropped out of the rankings of the top three buyers.

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani bought beachside real estate on the emirate’s swanky Palm Jumeirah archipelago in 2022, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg at the time. Actor Vivek Oberoi has invested in a home and a property firm in the city, and has pictures of his Rolls-Royce in Dubai on Instagram.

About 3.5 million Indians currently live in the UAE, according to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. For many, Dubai feels like home because of decades of cultural ties with India.

The flow of money from wealthy individuals comes at a time when Middle Eastern governments are strengthening ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government as they look for new global allies beyond their long-term partnership with the United States.

Wealthy Chinese who had been investing from Vancouver to Sydney have been hit by plunging stock and property values. Yet India is expected to see an 80 per cent surge in “centi-millionaires” worth more than US$100 million over the next decade or so, the second-highest growth globally after Vietnam, immigration firm Henley & Partners estimates. It expects the US to be the second most popular destination for rich Indians after Dubai, followed by Australia, Canada and Singapore.

Still, much of India’s new billions is expected to stay within its borders due to capital controls and a traditional caution in taking savings too far from home. Also, for those making a rush for Dubai or elsewhere, getting money out could start getting harder.

India already limits how much money its wealthy can take out of the country, with individuals allowed to wire only US$250,000 each year. Since October, those transfers are taxed at 20 per cent, barring cash used for education and medical expenses.

Many Indians say Dubai’s attraction extends well beyond low taxes, pointing to the better infrastructure and quality of life at a time when many Indian cities are grappling with snarling traffic and some of the world’s worst air quality. The UAE golden visa programme also allows foreigners making substantive investments to stay for 10 years.

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Mr Oberoi made Dubai his second home three years ago and established the Bricks n Woods Real Estate firm in the heart of the emirate. The business has a team of more than 300 experts working with family offices and individuals. The Indian actor also runs a lab-grown diamond business called Solitario, besides investing in start-ups globally, out of Dubai. The city’s convenient time zone, social life and global sports make it really attractive for his family, he said.

“In the building of Dubai as we see it today, one of the biggest contributions has been of Indians. We have so much respect here and Hindi is almost like a second language,” Mr Oberoi said.

Mr Vishal Goel, a Harvard-educated serial entrepreneur with interests in schools and healthcare, escaped rounds of lockdowns and Covid-19 measures in India by relocating to Dubai.

“My wife established her company in the DIFC fintech hub and I could take my fund management business beyond India,” he said, using the abbreviation for Dubai International Financial Centre.

Mr Goel runs JV Ventures, a venture capital and private equity investment firm.

The Sajan company, Danube, is now targeting revenue of US$2.5 billion in 2023 from US$1.5 billion a year earlier, aided by the flow of Indian money.

Three years ago, Mr Rizwan Sajan – Adel’s father and the founder of Danube – was granted Emirati citizenship. Mr Adel Sajan now is in the process of getting his. BLOOMBERG

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