Monthly Spotlight: The Barzani’s Wealth and Lavish Lifestyle

File photo (David Vives/Unsplash)

The Barzani family’s wealth and lavish lifestyle stands in stark contrast to the reality of life for most Kurds: $300k on watches, cashmere clothes and two Beverly Hills mansions. While much of Iraqi Kurdistan’s population grapples with economic hardship and instability, the Barzani family, who have ruled Kurdistan for generations, lives in starkly contrasting opulence.

Recent investigations reveal the vast wealth accumulated by the family, primarily through oil, telecoms, and real estate deals. Critics have accused the Barzanis of using the region’s vast oil wealth for personal gain rather than public benefit. In September 2019, OilPrice.com, a leading industry news site, reported on a scheme that allegedly involved the Barzani family stealing 28% of Kurdistan’s entire oil export stock. The resulting proceeds were then deposited into a Cypriot bank account in the name of Masrour Barzani’s then-mistress, the report added.

The Kurdistan Victims Fund’s legal complaint against the Barzanis, recently reported by The Middle East Forum Observer, alleges Masrour Barzani and his brothers have used offshore accounts and shell corporations to embezzle hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in international aid. The complaint also reveals for the first time over 50 shell corporations linked to the Barzanis, including holdings in the British Virgin Islands and real estate in the U.S.

File photo (Chomaniii/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Business Ventures

The Barzani family has amassed incredible wealth; KDP leader Massoud Barzani’s personal wealth alone is estimated at $55 billion. Meanwhile KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and President Nechirvan Barzani own two of the largest media outlets in Kurdistan. Rudaw is owned by Nechirvan while Kurdistan 24 is owned by Masrour.

The Barzanis are thought to own RT Bank, which is responsible for paying the salaries of civil servants, according to Rudaw.

Written evidence submitted to a UK parliamentary committee by the Public Health Protection Network (PHPN), a network of healthcare workers, activists, and journalists based in Kurdistan, also suggests that the Barzanis indirectly own KAR Group, an oil conglomerate thought to own approximately 40% of the oil pipelines in the country.

The PHPN evidence also alleges that individuals close to the Barzanis and associated with KAR group set up a UK charity to process and conceal the transfer of dirty money across borders by collecting funds for a children’s hospital. After ‘The Kurdistan Children Hospital’ was built, it was taken over by a private university – The University of Kurdistan – which was founded by KRG President Nechirvan Barzani. The university contracted its hospital to a private Turkish company, which renamed it Santelife Hospital and shifted its focus to general medical services for wealthy clients, diverging from the original plan to enhance the country’s pediatric care as announced by the charity.

The Barzanis also maintain ties to international political and business elites. Sirwan Barzani, a cousin of the President and Prime Minister, runs the company Jabal Sara together with Iraq Projects and Business Development (IPBD), owned by the Zahawai family. Nadhim Zahawi served as a Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom until January 2024. Sirwan Barzani also owns Korek Telecom Co.

File photo (Antonio Cuellar/Unsplash)

Property Empire

The family’s illicit wealth is hidden in luxurious foreign properties, including mansions in the US and UAE that are obscured by intricate legal structures, according to leaked US State Department cables and documents uncovered by investigative journalists.

An investigation by journalist Zack Kopplin has revealed that the Barzani family owns assets worth billions across the word including a $1.27bn real estate project and a $300 million refinery. Kopplin also revealed that Prime Minister Masrour Barzani is using American corporate secrecy laws to hide a $18 million property in Miami and $50 million of properties in California. Nearly 300 properties between McLean, Virginia, and Dubai, worth a combined nine-figure sum, were identified as linked to President Nechirvan Barzani.

According to documents seen by The American Prospect, both the President and Prime Minister employ lawyers for the sole purpose of concealing their foreign assets through trusts, leading to questions about the illicit origins of their wealth. Nabila Mustafa, also known as Nabila Barzani, the president’s wife, is tied to several properties through these trusts.

In 2019, the Barzani family was linked to the purchase of two Beverly Hills homes, estimated to be worth $47 million. Despite allegedly attempting to hide behind a mysterious LLC, the buyers were connected to Haval Dosky, a man with longstanding ties to Mansour and Masrour. US media reported that one of the mansions was then sold in 2023 for $24 million. It featured a bowling alley, indoor basketball court, beauty salon and primary bedroom suite with its own outdoor jacuzzi on a private terrace.

Many younger members of the family also live privileged lifestyles in the West, well removed from the harsh economic realities of most Kurds. A recent investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) identified four members of the Barzani family who have leveraged their vast financial resources to purchase passports from the Caribbean nation of the Dominican Republic, permitting them to travel to 144 countries without need for a visa.

Leaked documents obtained by Ekurd Daily reveal the opulent lifestyle of the eldest son of President Nechirvan Barzani, Idris Nechirvan Barzani. In 2017, Idris bought two Vacheron Constantin watches for over $375,000, according to a leaked invoice. His extravagant spending also extended to high-end clothing and accessories, spending approximately $28,863 at Italian luxury cashmere brand Loro Piana and $17,000 at French leather maker Berluti.

While the Barzanis enjoy luxurious properties abroad, the average citizen in Iraqi Kurdistan is plagued by economic hardship, political instability, and lack of basic services. The Kurdish government has failed to pay its civil servants on time and in full for nearly a decade due to ongoing economic crises. Throughout 2023, Kurdistan Region civil servants received only nine monthly salaries, according to a report from The New Arab. In September 2023, Prime Minister Barzani said Kurdistan was “economically bleeding” and asked the US for help to prevent economic collapse in a leaked letter sent to President Joe Biden and reported by Al-Monitor.

The contrast between the Barzani family’s wealth and the realities of those under their rule is striking. Barzani Watch will continue to report on the family’s alleged corruption, advocating for transparency and accountability in their financial dealings.

File photo: a Vacheron Constantin store in Paris (Chabe01/CC BY-SA 4.0)

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