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Othman El Ballouti

For two years, Othman El Ballouti, a businessman who Belgian newspapers describe as one of Europe’s major cocaine traffickers, has been on the run from Belgian police, who suspect him to be hiding in Dubai. Now a leaked database of real estate information shows that a man with the name of Othman El Ballouti owns property in the emirate.

Belgian newspapers cast El Ballouti as a man who runs a large cocaine import business from the Belgian port of Antwerp, a charge he refutes. Their coverage often describes him as one of the Low Countries’ biggest drug barons, with ties to several competing gangs. Sources told Gazet van Antwerpen that his combined assets are worth at least 100 million euros ($118 million).

He was arrested at the Brussels airport in 2016 after the police traced money he had donated to a Muslim school in Antwerp to “illegal sources,” according to Gazet van Antwerpen. After he was released on probation, the newspaper reported, El Ballouti fled the country.

According to a head investigator of the drug division of the Antwerp Federal Police, his last known whereabouts are Dubai.

Dutch-Moroccan and Belgian gangs have been at war over drug distribution across Belgium and the Netherlands since 2012. Over 20 people have been killed in Antwerp and Amsterdam, two of the biggest drug ports in Western Europe, in recent years.

The El Ballouti family hasn’t escaped the consequences of these turf wars.

El Ballouti’s younger brother, Younes “El Magico” El Ballouti, was kidnapped off an Antwerp street when leaving a gym in 2016. The kidnappers reportedly demanded tens of millions of euros from Othman El Ballouti for his brother’s release, according to Gazet van Antwerpen.

They then took Younes to France, where he escaped after five weeks and went to local police for help.

El Ballouti told police that Dutch drug lord Houssine Ait Soussan had been behind the scheme. Ait Soussan allegedly wanted to punish El Ballouti for his exclusion from the Antwerp cocaine smuggling route.

In 2017, Dutch police arrested four men from Paris for the kidnapping and extradited them to Belgium. Two were later also prosecuted for the kidnapping of Abdelkader Bouker, an Antwerp drug lord nicknamed “The Jew.”

El Ballouti appears in a leaked database of property and residency data compiled by assorted real estate professionals obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project through C4ADS. His name is connected with 11 properties in Dubai with a combined worth of nearly US$ 8.5 million.

Four of these properties, worth about $2 million, are in the Mira townhouses in Reem, described by local real estate agents as a “relaxed” exotic community away from the commotion of the city. It features “an exclusive desert botanical park, camping facilities, sand surfing and camel riding trails, [a] go karting track, dune buggies, [a] rock climbing wall, and a skate park.”

Two other properties, which he is listed as having sold, are located in the Discovery Gardens, a residential high rise community marketed for small families and bachelors. They are worth about $244,000 today.

El Ballouti also has a property in the Address Residence Sky View, one of Dubai’s most luxurious hotel and apartment complexes, which was scheduled to be completed last year. The architecturally unique complex of two towers is connected by a sky bridge that includes a restaurant, ballroom and infinity pool. Apartments the same size as El Ballouti’s in this luxury residence sell for about $1.4 million today.

El Ballouti could not be reached for comment.

This story was edited to provide sourcing in parts of the story.

This story is part of the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium, a collaboration started by OCCRP and Transparency International. For more information, click here.