According to a survey by real estate consultancy Knight Frank, London has the largest number of millionaires in the world, with more than 870,000. The English capital is also home to 61 billionaires who, together, are worth approximately $316 billion.
Oleg Deripaska, one of the Russian oligarchs under British government sanction, owns an £80 million mansion in Belgravia. The mansion has a cinema, dozens of rooms and several works of art, but it has no residents. This week, the residence was invaded by protesters demanding that the place be used to house refugees from the war in Ukraine.
Next to the mansion is Eaton Square, a planned block with a large central square and tall buildings, with up to five floors. In the place, personalities such as former Prime Minister Margareth Thatcher, singer and pianist Elton John and actress Kate Winslet have lived there.
The address was once considered the most desired in London, symbol of the wealth of the most influential families in the city. In recent years, the place has gained the nickname “red square” because of the huge amount of Russian billionaires who have invested in real estate at this address.
For decades, the UK has attracted wealthy foreigners who need to put their fortunes into safe, anonymous investments. This was facilitated by permissive legislation and people willing to do multi-million-dollar deals, such as lawyers, accountants and real estate agents, as Susannah Fitzgerald of Transparency International explains.
“It is very easy to create anonymous companies, registered internationally in secret jurisdictions, to buy these luxury properties. Another issue is that the professionals involved in this process have not done a good job of identifying money laundering, even though it is required by law”.
This is the case of a mansion in North London, it is the second largest private property in the English capital – second only to Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II lived until weeks ago. Built on two hectares of land, the 25-bedroom building is valued at £300m.
The building is in the name of an offshore company based in the British Virgin Islands. An investigation published by The New Yorker magazine linked the company to Russian businessman and politician Andrey Guryev.
Days after the war in Ukraine began, a bill was passed in the British parliament that would require the identity of the final owners of properties in the United Kingdom to be revealed. Owners will no longer be able to hide behind a business. The objective is to tighten the siege on money laundering.
The purchase of real estate by anonymous billionaires inflates the real estate market, negatively impacting the lives of residents of the English capital. “There is a cost to local communities when there are vacant properties, businesses in the area suffer because there is no movement and no one is going to use local businesses,” says Fitzgerald.
It’s not just Russians who have found a safe haven in London property. The international Pandora Papers investigation revealed last year that the family that rules Azerbaijan, for example, owns £420m in London wealth. Most are empty properties, located in Kensington, the neighborhood where Prince William and Duchess Kate Middleton live.
It was these reasons that led Joe Powell to found the Kensington Against Dirty Money group. He says the neighborhood is the most unequal in the city, and much of the blame, says Joe, stems from the hyperinflated transactions made by foreigners.
“We have four of the ten most expensive streets in England and yet one in four children grows up in poverty. One of the reasons for this has been the flow of dirty money into the property market, which has created parts of London that are basically empty,” he says.
For Joe, many of these empty properties, which are used only for investment, should be earmarked for social benefit. And he already has the solution: “we have 3,000 families that are on the waiting list for affordable housing, an affordable place where they can live”, says the Briton.
Source: CNN Brasil