Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Debunking Obama’s Dubai Domicile

Q: Are the Obamas buying a vacation home in Dubai?
A: No. This rumor was circulated on a fake news website.


Is President Obama buying a four million dollar home in Dubai, and was a top Admiral fired by Obama for questioning why he was buying the home in Dubai?


This rumor started with an article posted on Jan. 10 by a disreputable news site, WhatDoesItMean.com, under the headline, Top US Admiral Fired For Questioning Obama Purchase Of Mansion in Dubai.”

WhatDoesItMean.com, Jan. 10: A stunning new Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) report circulating in the Kremlin today states that one of the United States Navy’s top commanders was relieved of his command a few hours ago after he sent out an “email/posting” revealing that President Barack Obama was in the process of purchasing a multi-million dollar seaside luxury villa in the United Arab Emirates city (UAE) of Dubai. 

This report is bogus. It’s from a website widely known as a fake news source that focuses on conspiracy theories. WhatDoesItMean.Com is self-described as “One Of The Top Ranked Websites In The World for New World Order, Conspiracy Theories and Alternative News.”

In fact, on its privacy policy page, the website explains its content is largely fiction:

WhatDoesItMean.com: Some events depicted in certain articles on this website are fictitious and any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental. Some other articles may be based on actual events but which in certain cases incidents, characters and timelines have been changed for dramatic purposes. Certain characters may be composites, or entirely fictitious.

This website frequently uses outlandish headlines. Some of its most recent articles include:World Rushes To Obama’s Door For New ‘Miracle Bombs’ That Don’t Kill AnyoneandRussia Shockingly Adds Hillary Clinton To Terror Sponsor Watchlist.”

The purported author of the article on the Dubai home is Sorcha Faal, identified on the website as “Sister Maria Theresa … the 73rd Sorcha Faal of the Sorcha Faal Order, Elected as Mother Superior 3 February 2007.”

In fact, the Obamas are not purchasing the house in question, and Rear Adm. Rick Williams — the officer named in the story — was terminated for other reasons. 

The Dubai Villa

The article provides a detailed description of the home that it falsely claims Obama is buying:

WhatDoesItMean.com, Jan. 10: As to the “Obama house hunting mission” Admiral Williams was making his query about before being fired, this report continues, SVR intelligence “assests” in the UAE identified it as being a luxury seaside villa located in the Palm Jumeirah development of Dubai being offered for sale at the price of $4.9 million (18 million United Arab Emirates Dirham), and which a deposit on it was made this past week by the Washington D.C. based global public affairs company Podesta Group.

The article links to a home listing by Ocean View Real Estate for a villa in Dubai that was still on the market as of this report. On Jan. 13, the English-language tabloid Xpress from Dubai quoted the CEO of Ocean View Real Estate, Tim Boswell, as dispelling the notion that Obama had purchased, or was even looking at the home.

“On a serious note, I know that a man of Obama’s stature will send his ‘people’ to view the villa before buying it, but we are not aware of any such leads,” Boswell told the paper. “My villa has been up for sale since the last six weeks and I can assure you no presidents have viewed it so far.”

The image of this home has been circulated widely online, showing up on home improvement websites and being cited by some as the exterior of the Bulgari Resort Villa in Dubai, which will open in 2017.

And, despite what the article claims, Williams was not fired because he criticized Obama’s idea to purchase a home in Dubai.

In fact, the Navy Times reported on Jan. 9 that Williams was fired for viewing pornography on his work computer — which the bogus news article referenced when it said Williams was fired for “allegations of his misuse of government computer equipment.”

Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense authorized news outlet, reported on Jan. 9 that, prior to his firing, Williams had been commander of the Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 15 based in San Diego. The article said Williams was fired “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command” based on the result of “an investigation into allegations of misuse of government computer equipment.” It provided no further details.

So, Williams was fired, but it had nothing to do with the president.

The Companies

WhatDoesItMean.com misappropriates the credibility of two companies with ties to Obama. The article falsely claims that the Podesta Group, a powerful lobbying firm, put a deposit on the Dubai home for Obama, and that DLA Piper provided legal representation. 

The Podesta Group was cofounded by Obama adviser John Podesta and his brother, Tony. DLA Piper is a multinational law firm that gained “critical mass with a 2005 merger between UK-based DLA LLP and Chicago-based Piper Rudnick,” as described by Forbes. Obama and his family lived in Chicago when he was a senator from Illinois. During Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, two DLA Piper executives were Obama bundlers and the company’s employees were among his biggest donors.

But, as we said, the Dubai house is still on the market for now and the real estate agent listing it said Obama has expressed no interest in it.


Faal, Sorcha. “Top US Admiral Fired For Questioning Obama Purchase Of Mansion In Dubai.” whatdoesitmean.com. 10 Jan 2016.

Kumar, Anjana. “‘No, I haven’t sold my Palm villa to Obama.'” Gulfnews.com. 13 Jan 2016.

Myers, Meghann. “Navy strike group commander fired for viewing porn at work.” Navy Times. 9 Jan 2016.

Admiral relieved of duty 6 months after taking the helm of Carrier Strike Group 15.” Stars and Stripes. 9 Jan 2016.

Ho, Catherine. “The Podesta Group has earned at least $1.15m lobbying for Puerto Rico.” Washington Post. 29 June 2015.

Parnell, David. “Roger Meltzer Of DLA Piper, On Law Firm Legacies, China, And Defining The ‘Global Elite.'” Forbes. 19 Oct 2015.

National Journal. “Hill People: David Morgenstern.” 12 Feb 2011.

Eilperin, Juliet. “John Podesta: The backbone of the second Obama term departs.” 23 Feb 2015.

Barack Obama’s Bundlers.” Opensecrets.org. Undated, accessed 2 Feb. 2016.

Barack Obama: Top Contributors, 2012 Cycle.” Opensecrets.org. Undated, accessed 2 Feb. 2016.