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Face to face: Raj Sahni, RSG International

by Fatima De La Cerna on Oct 7, 2017

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Raj Sahni, owner and chairman of RSG International, has accepted that his days as an unassuming member of Dubai’s real estate community are behind him. He says he’s known this since October of last year, when he made headlines around the world.

Dressed in his trademark baseball cap and kandora, he tells Construction Week: “I was quiet in real estate. I was just buying and selling; nobody knew my name. Nobody knew about me, and I never wanted people to know about me. [At RSG,] we were – are – a quiet developer. We enjoy working quietly. I just became famous when I bought the number, and I’d already bought another number before that.”

He adds the last statement almost as an afterthought, sounding like he’s still puzzling over the attention he has received, and continues to receive, because of his interest in “numbers”.

But when those numbers add up to millions of dollars, public attention is bound to follow – something that he discovered when he bid a staggering $9m (AED33m) for the D5 number plate last year at an auction hosted by Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA).

And, as he points out, this wasn’t his first foray into the world of licence plate auctions. At the time, he already owned several personalised registrations, including one that he purchased in 2015 for $6.7m (AED24.5m). Further stoking the public’s interest, Sahni paid $1.2m (AED4.5m) for a mobile phone number at a du auction in February 2017.

 Despite the unwanted attention, Sahni says he doesn’t harbour any regret over his purchase of the D5 number plate, pointing out that auction proceeds go to charity. What he does feel discomfort about is having to discuss it, especially in light of criticism he’s received from those who view his spending as frivolous.

“I don’t enjoy talking about it,” he admits. “It feels like I’m showing off my assets. And [the number plate] doesn’t define me as a person. I’m still who I was before I bought that number. Nothing has changed.”

Nevertheless, Sahni concedes that the results of this publicity have not been wholly negative. “Something good has been happening since I got the number,” he explains. “Everybody knows I have cash, so I’m getting good deals. I have brokers and landlords calling or [sending me text messages,] offering good deals.”

And it’s not just local offers that have been coming his way. Sahni says he’s also been receiving invitations to develop real estate projects in other countries, although he emphasises that these proposals are of limited interest to him.

“I know the systems in Dubai. I’ve made a name here, [and] I get approvals easily,” he explains. “My friends tell me to invest in London or go to the US. I have investments in the US, but it takes time. It’s a nightmare to get approvals in other parts of the world.