x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A peek inside Dubai's Fort Knox

At the vaults of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, the emirate stakes its claim in the global industry for precious metal and stones.

Every time Pierre Grabowski uses his key card to pass through a door, he patiently watches it close. He can not afford anyone slipping in behind him. As the director of security at the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), his job is to make sure that the hundreds of millions of dirhams worth of gold and diamonds that pass in and out of the DMCC's vaults in the Almas Tower remain safe. The key to preventing a robbery, according to Mr Grabowski, a veteran of security in banks and the diamond industry, is attention to detail and never letting your guard drop. "A lot of people think you should be paranoid in this line of work," Mr Grabowski says. "But the moment you start seeing ghosts, you will miss the real ghosts trying to get in." The property boom gave rise to several of the emirate's most spectacular buildings, including the Burj Dubai, the world's tallest tower, and the sprawling Mall of the Emirates, complete with its indoor ski slope. But the Almas Tower comes from very different economic origins. The tower is the cornerstone of Dubai's efforts to become the world's largest centre for the trade in gold and diamonds, rivalling the likes of Antwerp and New York as the first destination for precious metals and stones from Africa and Asia. The DMCC has already started making an impact. In the first half of last year, the value of Dubai's rough diamond trade reached US$3.03 billion (Dh11.12bn), according to the Dubai Diamond Exchange. While the Dh550 million Almas Tower has not been in the spotlight for world records, at 360 metres it is said to be the 20th tallest building in the world. It juts out from the Jumeirah Lake Towers community off Dubai's main motorway, Sheikh Zayed Road, rising above the residential towers that surround it. But the true asset of the building remains permanently out of sight. The gold and diamond vaults in the base of the building are among the largest in the country and are secured with state-of-the-art technology. Customers wanting to gain access to their boxes cannot actually enter the vault. Instead, they enter a small secured room where they scan all five of the fingers of their left hand and enter an encrypted key card. A robot inside the vault brings the box to them through a special opening. "Nobody goes into the vault except the maintenance crew," Mr Grabowski says. The vault's door weighs 2.5 tonnes and the steel-reinforced concrete walls would take a month to penetrate with a jackhammer. Outside the dual entrances to the gold vault, which is on another floor, is a forklift. "The gold comes in and out on pallets," says Ahmed bin Sulayem, the executive chairman of DMCC, which developed the building. "We're talking about huge volumes of trading." While the diamond vault is accessible directly to customers, the gold vault is more isolated. No one but the security lorry drivers pass through the giant doors. To get to the vault, they enter a lift with no buttons. A video camera takes each visitor's picture and an operator from a control room puts the lift in motion. DMCC's security team has a direct line to the Dubai police in the event of an emergency. Mr Grabowski says there are even more features that he cannot divulge for security reasons. He lets on that even if someone were to get into the vault the sensors inside are so sensitive they could capture a person breathing. But the building has not been immune from the property downturn. Rental prices for the nearly 400 offices have decreased by about 50 per cent since it was completed last year, according to property consultancy CB Richard Ellis. Almost all of the offices were sold out in 2005, which has been a boon to the owners, says Brian Wilson, the executive director of property development of DMCC. The bigger challenge will be for Jumeirah Lake Towers as a whole. Some of the developers are having difficulty financing the completion of their buildings after the global financial crisis. So far, 35 buildings out of 79 have received occupancy certificates for people to move in, said Mr Wilson. He expects another 15 to open by the end of the year and the rest over next year and the following one. About 25 per cent of the area's infrastructure, such as street lights and roads, is still being built. The Almas Tower itself is also undergoing the finishing touches, with some panels still needed to be installed on the exterior of the building before it is ready for handover. The building is designed with diamonds in mind. Even the name, Almas, means diamond in Arabic. "Every room is designed so that you can view a diamond with natural light," Mr Sulayem says. When it is fully fitted out, it will include a 450-person ballroom for conferences about the industry. The base of the tower has several triangular structures that spread out in the shape of a star. In these rooms, there will be space for private auctions and private negotiations, as well as a diamond boiling facility to rid jewels of dirt and other imperfections. The penthouse on the 63rd floor, is still vacant and DMCC is exploring different uses for it. As the tallest building in the area, the views of the Gulf and surrounding developments are expansive. While the building is open to any type of tenant, most of them are in the jewellery business. They include prominent names in the diamond business such as Rosy Blue from India and Zao Alrosa from Russia. The tower's developer will be hoping to attract other big industry names as it seeks to cement its position in the global diamond trade. "Diamond traders are fed up with the things going on in Belgium," Mr bin Sulayem said. "Dubai is a more multi-cultural place and Almas Tower is the gateway to the Saudi and GCC market." bhope@thenational.ae