Can Dubai be the next Silicon Valley technology hub? When Wealthy sheikhs behind Smart City leave a trail of failed projects. The Shift takes a look at Dubai Holding, the UAE real estate giant with a majority shareholding in Smart City (Malta) Ltd. Here it is.
Wealthy sheikhs behind Smart City leave trail of failed projects
Smart City Malta isn’t the only project masterminded by Dubai Holding, a subsidiary company of the UAE crown’s real estate arm, that has departed from its original terms, according to research conducted by The Shift following the Maltese government’s recent decision to change the parameters of the deal.
Similar projects in India and Morocco have also suffered the same fate – incomplete, then turned into residential projects yielding more personal profits instead of the investment in the economy and the creation of jobs promised.
The three Emirati nationals on Smart City (Malta) Ltd’s board of directors are Khalid al Malik, Jassim al Abdool, and Majed Mohammed Khamis Sabt Al Suwaidi. Dubai Holding’s subsidiary company, SmartCity Dubai FZ-LLC, owns a majority of the shares of SmartCity (Malta) Ltd.
The new terms of the deal for Smart City Malta ratified by the Labour government mean the three wealthy businessmen have been granted a much freer rein over what happens with the massive tract of land they purchased in Kalkara in 2007.
Al Malik is listed as the managing director of Dubai Holding, while Abdool is the executive director of Dubai Holding Real Estate.
Al Suwaidi is the managing director of three subsidiary companies under the umbrella of TECOM Group. TECOM Group also forms part of Dubai Holding’s portfolio of companies.
The Smart City project in Malta amounts to almost a fifth (17.55%) of Kalkara’s entire surface area – 316,000sqm from a total of 1,800,000sqm of land.
In 2007, the Maltese government first signed the deal which was supposed to lead to the creation of an ICT city, a project backed by a €300 million investment that was supposed to create 5,600 jobs, which never materialised.
From Kalkara to Kakkanad
That same year, Dubai Holding announced an almost identical Smart City pitch for an area in India known as Kakkanad.
Smart City Kochi, as the project is known, bears striking similarities with the one in Malta, albeit on a larger scale – in 10 years, the project was supposed to convert over 800,000sqm of land into an ICT city, creating 90,000 jobs in the process.
Like Smart City Malta, Smart City Kochi also lists Malik and Abdool as directors.
In 2020, the New Indian Express published an article describing how a state government representative sitting on Smart City Kochi’s board had allegedly attempted to sell off over 120,000sqm of land meant for IT development as residential real estate instead.
The attempt to sell off this land mirrors what happened in Malta with the Shoreline residential development – even though the original agreement stipulated specific parameters for ICT-related development.
Two years later, the same news portal published another article comparing Smart City Kochi with an IT hub located across the street known as Infopark, with the portal describing the promised Smart City hub as a project that “failed to live up to all the initial hype even 11 years after its launch”.
An analysis of the concept art originally showcased for Smart City Kochi compared to satellite imagery of the area on Google Maps shows that while some of the proposed projects are under construction, ten years later, the project is far from what was advertised as the end stage of the project.
The Rabat-Salé connection
Al Malik’s biography on Dubai Holding’s website states that the managing director “is also responsible for the company’s international real estate investments in places such as Malta, Kochi and Morocco as well as managing its strategic relations with local and international investors, and its government affairs”.
The Shift’s research indicates that Dubai Holding had, in 2005, announced a $2 billion project in an area known as Bouregreg, nestled between the cities of Rabat and Salé in Morocco.
Similar to the project in Kakkanad and Kalkara, the ambitious plans announced initially by the then-king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, do not match what is seen in Bouregreg today.
The project was originally supposed to convert a massive 40 million sqm area into an entirely new urban district featuring 2,000 apartments, 300 retail outlets and adjacent malls, parks and theatres.
The only visible structure in the area is the Grand Théâtre de Rabat, the construction of which was completed last year, two years past its deadline.