At £ 400 a night, the Sofitel on the man-made Palm Jumeirah in Dubai is not cheap. Vacationers are drawn to the beachfront suites, 24-hour butler service, a choice of six outdoor pools and 500 meters (1,640 feet) of white sand reserved for guests.
What was less well publicized was the personality of the hotel owners. The resort appears to be owned by the daughters of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. The two sites on which the Sofitel is built are owned by the Dubai-based company Sahra FZCO, according to records obtained through the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
What was less well publicized was the identity of the hotel owners. The resort appears to be owned by the daughters of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. The two sites on which the Sofitel is built are owned by the Dubai-based company Sahra FZCO, according to records obtained through the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
is jointly owned by Leila and Arzu Aliyeva, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity about the Daphne project, a collaboration of 18 news organizations, including The Guardian, Reuters and The New York Times. Led by Forbidden Histories France, it was created to continue the investigation into the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed in a car bomb explosion in October
Disclosure is likely to raise new questions from the ruling family of Azerbaijan, which has been widely criticized for lack of transparency, imprisonment of journalists and restrictions on freedom of speech since Aliyev came to power in 2003.
Sahra was reportedly founded in 2004 and 50% of each was owned by daughters.
The president’s children appear to have overseen an expanding business and real estate empire that includes London real estate, mining, telecommunications and hotels.
Unlike other jurisdictions such as the UK, Dubai’s land registry is not open to the public. The volume of Aliyev’s portfolio became known only due to the leak of real estate data in OCCRP. The information covers the period from 2014 to 2016. Since then, the land may have changed hands.
The Aliyevs did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Apart from Sofitel, Sarah appears to have acquired 16 villas in the nearby Jumeirah Islands. This structure, a man-made archipelago located in a lagoon, is one of the most sought after in Dubai. His villas, set among water features and lush gardens, cost an average of £ 2 million each.
The records also appear to corroborate a previous Washington Post report that the sisters and their brother Heydar Aliyev bought 17 luxury properties on Palma. The parcels registered in their names are worth approximately £ 70 million.
There are no hints of wrongdoing, although the disclosure is likely to renew international calls for more transparency by the Azerbaijani government.
Aliyev disputes any criticism of his leadership, calling it slander. He claims that Azerbaijan is a democratic country and free and fair elections are held in it.