28 Wilton Place
One of the distinguishing features of the London homes of its super rich “non-residents” is their non-transparent chain of ownership. Front or dummy companies, offshore corporations, non-beneﬁcial owners – all these ﬁnancial twists and turns are deployed to ensure the virtual impossibility of establishing any connection to the real owners. Look up 28 Wilton Place in the UK Land Registry and you'll soon discover this six storey house, worth £10 million (Dh44 million) and located in one of the most elegant Regency-era streets of the capital, in fact belongs to Ocral Enterprises, registered in Panama. A company whose registered representative is a ﬁrm of Panama lawyers, which receives instructions from another company, from Muscat in Oman, on behalf of Ocral. After months of scrutinising this tangled web, anti-corruption investigators have discovered the real “beneﬁcial” owners are Ala'a and Jamal Mubarak, the sons of the former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. When the Arab Spring rocked Egypt in 2011, Mubarak and his family were accused of stealing as much as $70 billion (Dh257 billion.) Given the builders' wire mesh currently surrounding 28 Wilton Place, some of this money is perhaps being used to dig the foundations for the mega basement, as outlined in the plans submitted to the local council last year.
A five minute stroll away from the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall Court stands majestically over Victoria Embankment. This building of luxury apartments, overlooking the River Thames and the Ministry of Defence, was once home to MI6, the United Kingdom's foreign secret service. Erected in the late 19th century as part of a fraudulent pyramid scheme, Whitehall Court is now quite a desirable address, encouraging Igor Shuvalov, First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, to buy not one but two apartments. After shelling out a total of £11.4 million for this property (the equivalent of 110 years of his official salary as a member of the Russian government), Shuvalov brought them back together to form a single London pied-à-terre measuring 500 m2. A luxurious property — which is surely perfectly suited to a man whose wife travels with her corgis by private jet, because business class is “too uncomfortable for them”.
Ten per cent, or £122 billion worth of real estate in the centre of London is owned by offshore dummy companies. In spite of everything, very few people would associate the lair of Ukrainian gas tycoon Dmytro Firtash with the upscale neighbourhood of Knightsbridge. Covering half of Cottage Place, a discrete street just round the corner from Harrods, this construction by David Chipperﬁeld looks more like any other average London building than a villa on the Gulf. Other than the fact that its three ﬂoors above ground level connect to a massive three-storey basement, Firtash has also recently struck a deal with the Ministry of Defence, buying their adjacent property, an unused 2,200 m2 London Underground tube station, for the princely sum of £53 million. For the moment, however, this annex shows very little sign of any construction work. A situation which could be explained by the fact that Firtash, a former conﬁdant of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, is now languishing in Vienna, where he has successfully evaded an extradition warrant issued by the United States for bribery of an Indian official, and he is now the subject of an international arrest warrant for money laundering and corruption.
If the owners of these sumptuous London apartments often go to extraordinary lengths to conceal their identities, organisations such as ClampK (the Committee for Legislation Against Moneylaundering in Properties by Kleptocrat s) will not hesitate to unmask them. In May 2016, to coincide with the Global Anti-Corruption Summit in London, ClampK organised a “kleptocracy” tour (for journalists) of properties which are the subject of its investigations, with associations such as Global Witness and Transparency International. An exercise that will be repeated this spring when the draft Criminal Finances Bill will have passed its third reading in the British parliament. Even if it is not the most ostentatious or conspicuous property in the tour, the house built in the former stables of the prestigious district of Belgravia is worth £3 million. It belongs to Roman Rotenberg, the nephew of Arkadi Rotenberg, former judo partner to Vladimir Putin and sanctioned by the EU and the USA due to his dubious affairs and his closeness to the Russian President. According to ClampK, thanks to Putin's protection, Arkadi Rotenberg and his brother Boris built a real estate and infrastructure empire valued at around $4 billion.
One Hyde Park
One Hyde Park is a centre of oligarchy. The fashionable apartments in this centre, dating back to 2000 and overlooking Hyde Park, go for up to £140 million. So Léonid Fedoun, vice-president of the Russian group Lukoil, was well advised to get his foot in the door for a mere £23 million. Residents of the complex beneﬁt from a tunnel that takes them straight into Dinner, restaurant of avant-garde chef Heston Blumenthal, boasting two Michelin stars. They have access to a 21 metre swimming pool, a cinema, saunas, a gym, a golf simulator, a wine cellar, meals served in their rooms and a laundry service. However, for plutocrats such as Fedoun, monitored and tracked for years due to allegations of tax evasion and money laundering, the real attraction of this high-class hideaway could be the opportunity to live within a secure vault, with windows covered by blinds and lifts with iris recognition, with no need to talk to the postman, who has to pass through an X-ray scanner operated by a 24 hour security team.
One might think that the former Russian senator Andrey Guryev, owner of Witanhurst, London's most spacious non-royal private dwelling of 365 rooms, might wish for a more modest place to escape to in the capital. A place such as the five-storey penthouse at the top of Vauxhall Tower, also known as St George Wharf Tower, a skyscraper over 180 metres high, not unlike those in Dubai, and finalist of the Carbuncle Cup 2014 for worst building design. At £51 million Guryev's 2,100 m2 apartment, with its view down the Thames as far as the House of Commons, is the most expensive real estate ever sold on the South Bank. A value which may or may not rise when this increasingly devout ex-communist, who shuns the public eye, has finished installing an Orthodox chapel, built piece by intricate piece and carried piece by piece by elevator to the top of the tower. In any case, this eagle's nest, with its glass walls no doubt put in place in the name of a secret offshore company, will do well as a "refuge, showroom and safe deposit box", to quote the secretary of ClampK, political activist and campaigner against corruption, Roman Borisovich, referring to Witanhurst.