Not many Dubai based businesses stand to benefit from Donald Trump’s first few months in office – well, not many that hadn’t completed licensing deals with the Trump Organization before he was sworn in as US president, at least. But RIF Trust, a relatively young company started by former banker Mimoun Assraoui, is one that could.
The company offers consultancy services on schemes that offer citizenship or residency in an overseas country by way of investment. In the wake of a couple of recent failed attempts by Mr Trump’s government to ban citizens from an initial seven (later six) Muslim majority countries, RIF Trust has received a spike in inquiries, Mr Assraoui says.
“We have clients who are calling us because of all of these bans,” he says. “We are positively correlated to instability.” Mr Assraoui, a French national with Moroccan heritage, started RIF Trust with his wife, Alexia, in 2013. He had spent most of his career in banking, working in Europe, Asia and the Middle East for the likes of Société Générale, ABN Amro, and latterly, for National Bank of Abu Dhabi. Citizenship by investment schemes have existed for more than 30 years, starting with the Caribbean islands of St Kitts and Nevis, which offered people a passport in return for an investment into the country’s sugar industry. The passports offered them visa free travel to the UK and Europe. The industry was given a further boost in 2015, when the EU granted visafree access to several other Caribbean islands including St Lucia, Dominica and Antigua – all of which run their own citizenship by investment schemes. Those seeking European Union passports can get them through investment programmes in Cyprus and Malta, while several other countries (including Spain, Portugal, the UK and Australia) offer residency visas for those who invest certain sums or set up businesses in their countries. Since 2015, Mr Assraoui has brought in a couple of other partners, David Regueiro and Mujahed Abu Salameh, to help grow a business that now has 15 staff and last month moved from serviced offices into its own space at UBora Tower in Business Bay. Mr Assraoui typically handles the business to business relationships, including relations with governments and suppliers of potential investment products. Mr Regueiro, a Spanish national who had previously worked with the Spanish government’s commercial arm in Taiwan, heads the company’s overall client relationships business, but Mr Abu Salameh handles the company’s Arabic sales team, which is where a sizeable portion of its clients come from. “We have 15 people and we have the potential of being 20 by year end,” says Mr Assraoui. He says that about 70 per cent of the company’s clients are from countries that have been affected by conflicts, such as Libya, Syria and Iraq. These are the “critical” cases, he says, who can spend anything from US$136,000 for a citizenship by investment programme on one of the Caribbean islands and up to €2 million (Dh7.7m) for the Cyprus scheme. The cheaper Caribbean schemes involve a nonrefundable donation, but most others involve making an investment in property, say, that they can sell again after five years. The company advises clients on suitable investments, which can range from fish farms to Antigua’s nascent film industry. “Myself, I am going out to the Caribbean this afternoon meeting suppliers of different projects to see which ones are serious, to see which, if it were us, we would put our money into,” Mr Assraoui says.