Pandora Papers Reveal Secret Owners Of Over 1,500 Offshore-Held UK Properties Worth Billions. In Trafalgar Square too
by Svetlana Ekimenko
First published on Sputnik News on October, 5, 2021
The dossier of more than 11.9 million confidential files, the Pandora Papers, published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on Sunday, has been touted as shedding 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 bln are secretly owned by a succession of heads of government, foreign politicians, business tycoons and high-profile ruling families via 716 offshore companies, reported The Guardian.
By cross-referencing UK Land Registry department data on properties held offshore with Sunday’s Pandora Papers leak of offshore financial documents by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), media outlets such as the BBC, The Guardian, Finance Uncovered and others claim to have revealed the identities of around 600 individuals behind foreign companies owning property in England and Wales.
Most of the properties are in London, specifically, Westminster and Kensington boroughs. While the owners are said to hail from every continent, representing 78 nationalities, more than a quarter are British. All UK-based property buyers are legally required to reveal their identity via a non-ministerial department, the Land Registry and Companies House. However, those whose wealth enables them to do so 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 outlets, are traced to jurisdictions such as the Seychelles, Cook Islands, Jersey, but predominantly the UK Overseas territory of the British Virgin Islands. While 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).
Thus, among those whose identities have been revealed by the investigation are retail business tycoon Sir Philip Green. His wife, Tina, is revealed by the outlets to have secretly purchased in 2016 through anonymous companies based in the British Virgin Islands multi-million-pound London real estate ahead of the collapse of their department store chain British Home Stores (BHS). The property thus bought included a £15 mln apartment in Mayfair and a home for the Greens’ daughter near Buckingham Palace, worth £10.6 mln.
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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 mln, including a building on Trafalgar Square. Mr. Bogolyubov’s assets are currently subject to a worldwide freeze, secured in court by PrivatBank in 2017.
The joint investigation of the UK media outlets and the ICIJ offers a glimpse at the UK property portfolio of the Qatari ruling family. The Al-Thani family is claimed to have acquired two properties overlooking Regent’s Park in London, through offshore companies, eschewing millions of pounds in tax.
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The King of Jordan Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein is revealed to have spent more than £70 mln ($100 mln) on property in the UK and US since he assumed power in 1999. The property portfolio included houses in London and Ascot in the UK. World Leaders As for UK properties owned offshore by foreign leaders, according to revelations from the Pandora Papers the family of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta resorted to secretly owned offshore companies to buy an apartment in central London. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is also 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, claimed The Guardian.
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Questions have been raises as the investigation revealed that major Tory donors invested in properties through offshore companies. British businessman and philanthropist Mohammed Amersi, founder and chairman of the Inclusive Ventures Group, and chairman of QML Group, is a leading donor to the Conservative Party, who contributed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s campaign.
Amersi bought two properties resorting to offshore companies, said the outlets, a townhouse in Mayfair and a country home in Gloucestershire. Mohammed 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 chancellor. Amersi denies any wrongdoing.
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The current heightened scrutiny of foreign ownership comes as plans for a register of overseas companies possessing UK property were first announced in 2016 by then Prime Minister David Cameron, to ensure that “corrupt individuals and countries will no longer be able to move, launder and hide illicit funds through London’s property market, and will not benefit from our public funds”.
After draft legislation was published, “progress” on amending the law was promised in the 2019 Queen’s Speech. Earlier this year the government of Boris Johnson reiterated its commitment to create a public register of overseas entities who own UK real estate, with the law yet to be introduced to Parliament.