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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain


Pandora’s Box: London’s billionaires playground

by Svetlana Ekimenko

A DOSSIER of more than 11.9 million confidential files, the Pandora Papers, published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on Sunday, sheds light on the alleged shadow financial schemes and offshore activities of hundreds of political figures from across the globe.

Over 1,500 UK properties worth an estimated £4 billion are secretly owned by a succession of heads of government, foreign politicians, business tycoons and high-profile ruling families via 716 offshore companies, reports the Guardian.

By cross-referencing UK Land Registry department data on properties held offshore with the Pandora Papers leak of offshore financial documents, media outlets such as the BBC, the Guardian, Finance Uncovered and others claim to have revealed the identities of some 600 individuals behind foreign companies owning property in England and Wales.

Most of the properties are in London, specifically in Westminster and Kensington. Whilst the owners are said to hail from every continent, more than a quarter are British. All UK-based property buyers are legally required to reveal their identity via the Land Registry and Companies House. Those whose wealth enables them to do so however, hire teams of professionals to create offshore entities that enable them to keep the lid on their ownership.

The offshore companies involved, according to the news outlets, are traced to jurisdictions such as the Seychelles, Cook Islands, Jersey, but predominantly the UK Overseas territory of the British Virgin Islands. Although the process of acquiring property through offshore companies is itself legal, the UK government has been underscoring money laundering risks for the property market in cases where there are “difficulties in determining the ultimate beneficial owners”, according to a Home Office report made last December.

Offshore acquisition of property was also cited as a potential means of dodging the attention of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

revealed

Amongst those whose identities have been revealed by the investigation are retail business tycoon Sir Philip Green. His wife, Tina, is said to have secretly bought multi-million-pound London real estate ahead of the collapse of their department store chain British Home Stores (BHS) in 2016 through anonymous companies based in the British Virgin Islands. The properties included a £15 million apartment in Mayfair and a home for the Greens’ daughter near Buckingham Palace worth £10.6 million.

Co-founder of PrivatBank, Gennadiy Bogolyubov, a Ukrainian billionaire currently under FBI investigation for money laundering, is revealed as the ultimate owner of a collection of UK properties worth around £400 million, including a building on Trafalgar Square. Bogolyubov’s assets are currently subject to a worldwide freeze, secured in court by PrivatBank in 2017.

The joint investigation by the British media and the ICIJ offers a glimpse at the UK property portfolio of the ruling family of the oil-rich Arab kingdom of Qatar. The Al-Thani family is said to have acquired two properties overlooking Regent’s Park in London through offshore companies, avoiding millions of pounds in tax.

King Abdullah of Jordan is revealed to have spent more than £70 million on property in the UK and USA since he assumed power in 1999. The property portfolio included houses in London and Ascot.

The Pandora Papers say the family of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta also resorted to secretly owned offshore companies to buy an apartment in central London.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is highlighted as having participated in a network of offshore companies, co-owned with friends and TV business partners, that held assets including apartments near London’s Regent’s Park, claims the Guardian.

Questions have been raised because the investigation revealed that major Tory donors invested in properties through offshore companies. British businessman and philanthropist Mohammed Amersi, founder and chair of the Inclusive Ventures Group, chair of QML Group, and a leading donor to the Conservative Party, contributed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s campaign.

Amersi bought two properties resorting to offshore companies, say the outlets, a townhouse in Mayfair and a country home in Gloucestershire. Amersi recently found himself mired in a ‘cash for access’ scandal around claims that high-spending Tory donors were able to gain regular meetings with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. Amersi denies any wrongdoing.