His Irish stud farm brings in big subsidies...
The Irish stud farm owned by one of the Arab world's richest world has earned him over €300,000 in single farm payments from the EU taxpayer over the past two years alone, an Irish Independent investigation has found.
One of the report's authors, farming journalist Darragh McCullough, joined Newstalk Breakfast this morning to discuss the "bonkers" case.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and emir of Dubai, owns close to 2,000 acres through his investments in studs around Ireland, with the most high-profile being the Kildangan stud in Kildare.
As a result, he – along with a number of the world's richest people – is benefitting from a scheme set up by the EU to try and keep small farmers on the land and guarantee that Europe has its own food supply.
"It's not that the sheikh is being creative in his accounting or anything like that," McCullough explained. "He would have bought this stud back in the '80s because of his massive interest in horses."
The newspaper is currently putting the spotlight on Ireland's wealthiest farmers.
"Most of them are bona fide farmers, if I can call them that. They're full-time guys. They might be farming thousands of acres, but that's their job.
"But others, then, are just enormously wealthy individuals who are happy to buy up and invest in land in Ireland.
And one of those is Sheikh al-Maktoum. He's reputed to be worth €18 billion, [making him] one of the wealthiest people in the world. Among his toys around the world is a €370m yacht."
"He has some of the best racehorses all over the world and Ireland is one of the best places to rear and to train racehorses, so it was logical that he would invest in somewhere like Ireland.
"But the system that has evolved around the European farm subsidies is such that there is now a payment for every single hectare of land that is farmed in the country.
"So even though you're one of the world's wealthiest man – and he probably has zero interest in EU farm subsidies or collecting them – the fact that you own 2,000 acres means you automatically qualify for a payment.
"In the sheikh's case, it's about €150,000 a year. And he would have been pulling this in over the last number of years."
McCullough called it a "classic example" of how the subsidy system in Europe, which collectively costs European taxpayers €55 billion per year to fund, is broken.
He also namechecked John Magnier as another "farmer" earning big subsidies due to his almost-9,500 acres in the country.
"A phenomenal amount of land that he's been buying up furiously over the last 10 and 20 years," McCullough said.
"And he also gets a single farm payment we believe to be north of €300,000 a year on the back of that land.
"This is a man who owns artworks reputed to be worth over €70 million! He's got a €60m home in Marbella, another home on the lake in Geneva. He doesn't need this money at all and yet he's pulling in hundreds of thousands of euro a year on the back of that."
McCullough expects the current system, which was only recently put in place, to remain for the next five years and that it is "ironically" farm lobby groups who have "most fiercely" opposed reforms.
"So every time change is proposed by EU agriculture commissioners such as Phil Hogan or his predecessor Dacian Cioloș, you get farmer groups resisting change.
"It's unlikely that we're going to see any dramatic change to this system in the near future."