Interactive UK map of tax haven owned land: Selling England by the offshore pound

Tony Gosling tony at
Fri Sep 4 11:19:04 BST 2015

Selling England by the offshore pound

OVER the last year Private Eye has revealed the 
extent of ownership of British land by offshore 
companies, generally for tax avoidance and often 
to conceal dubious wealth. Now the Eye has 
created an easily searchable online map of these 
properties, revealing for the first time the 
British property interests of companies based in 
tax havens from Panama to Luxembourg, and from 
Liechtenstein to the South Pacific island of 
Niue. Using Land Registry data released under 
Freedom of Information laws, and then linking 
more than 100,000 land title register entries to 
specific addresses, the Eye has tracked all 
leasehold and freehold interests acquired by 
offshore companies between 2005 and 2014.

The map shows all land and property registered in 
England and Wales in the name of an offshore 
company between 2005 and July 2014. It uses data 
released following Freedom of Information 
requests from Private Eye and expert work by 
software engineer Anna Powell-Smith.


See also
Land reform campaigners: Scottish Government must 
act on land owned in tax havens

Freehold properties are indicated by orange 
shapes covering the exact area of the property. 
Leasehold properties are shown by purple pin 
points. The map includes properties owned by any 
overseas company, not just those based in tax 
havens, sometimes for legitimate reasons. Even 
the freehold on the saintly Eye’s premises, owned 
by an Australian company, appears. Highlighting 
an individual property’s details also provides a 
link to email the Eye with any further 
information readers may have about the property.

All data is from Land Registry records, which 
occasionally contain errors. “Price paid” figures 
may be totals for sales including other 
properties. When a property title has been 
identified, the underlying Land Registry record 
can be obtained for a £3 fee from 

Using this data the Eye published a series of 
exposés of the companies, arms dealers, 
oligarchs, money launderers and others who use 
offshore companies, before David Cameron 
addressed the issue on a trip to the Far East in 
July. “There is no place in Britain for dirty 
money,” he said, promising to publish details of 
the property titles held by offshore companies. 
Even if this were to happen, however, it would 
fall far short of enabling offshore-owned 
property to be immediately identifiable, as the Eye can now make possible.

So what kind of operator might be found in this 
mine of information? The Eye’s quarrying so far 
has unearthed an eclectic cast of characters.

Strange company
Property investment and development companies 
routinely use offshore corporate vehicles to own 
major buildings to achieve capital gains tax and 
stamp duty advantages. When, for example, 1 Cabot 
Square, the original Canary Wharf tower, was 
bought by the Qatar Investment Authority in 2012 
as part of a financing deal, it was acquired by 
Luxembourg company OCS Investment sarl. Scores of 
leaseholds on other parts of the docklands 
financial district are also held offshore.

Those taking advantage of the super-prime London 
property boom to develop luxury apartments also 
keep their companies clear of the UK tax net. 
When in 2006 Christian Candy’s CPC group acquired 
Bowater House in Knightsbridge for £480m in a 
joint venture with the Qatari prime minister, to 
create the plutocrats-only One Hyde Park 
apartments, they did so through Guernsey-based 
Project Grande (Guernsey) Ltd. The Candy 
brothers’ UK company simply “managed” the 
development, the real profits on the development 
heading to the Channel Islands (with the help of 
one of the Candys’ UK companies’ directors at the 
time, current HM Revenue & Customs board chairman 
Ian Barlow). Leaseholds sold on the apartments 
themselves are also owned through offshore companies.

Other typical players of the offshore commercial 
property game include chains of shops such as 
Boots, Shell forecourts and pubs such as the Slug 
and Lettuce, not to mention countless “retail 
parks”. While chancellor George Osborne has ended 
some tax advantages available to individuals who 
own property offshore, in six years in charge of 
the tax system he has shown no appetite to curb corporate tricks.

Born (tax) free
Owning British property offshore is as old as the 
(largely postwar) growth of financial services in 
Britain’s network of overseas territories and 
Crown dependencies. It has been a favoured way, 
along with clever trust structures, for 
generations of families to pass on wealth without 
paying estate duties (now inheritance tax).

Perhaps the most prominent such family are the 
Harmsworths, whose male heirs became Lords 
Rothermere a century ago and now run the 
newspaper dynasty behind the Daily Mail. The 
empire is controlled by the family through a 
Bermudan company itself owned by a series of 
trusts. The 3rd Lord Rothermere, Vere Harmsworth, 
became a tax exile in the 1970s, bequeathing the 
opportunity to claim “domicile” status in France 
to his son and current Lord Rothermere, Jonathan.

The setup allows not just the multi-billion-pound 
business interests led by the patriotic Mail to 
be passed on inheritance tax-free, but also 
substantial property interests when held 
offshore. So tracts of farmland in Dorset are now 
owned by Harmsworth Trust Company (PTC) Ltd in 
the British Virgin Islands, while even a space in 
an underground Kensington car park near the Mail 
offices is owned by Harmsworth Holdings Ltd in St Lucia.

Eye 1394 revealed that in total 490,000 acres of 
England and Wales ­ larger than the area of 
Surrey or Greater London ­ are owned by offshore 
companies, most of it almost certainly acquired 
in this way for stamp duty and inheritance tax 
reasons. The figure for Scotland is 750,000 
acres, including estates owned by the Duke of 
Roxburgh using a Bermudan company and none other 
than phoney pharaoh Mohammed Fayed through a Liechtenstein company.

The most quintessentially English land owned 
offshore is the Hambleden estate on the banks of 
the Thames near Henley. Home to the chocolate box 
brick-and-flint village that has doubled as a 
film set for Midsomer Murders and Chitty Chitty 
Bang Bang, the area is owned by BVI company 
Hambleden Estates Inc, which turns out to be 
controlled by Swiss foreign exchange dealer Urs Schwarzenbach.

Schwarzenbach’s neighbour a couple of miles 
up-river can lay claim to the most expensive 
single land purchase on record through an 
offshore company. In 2011 the former president of 
the Bank of Moscow, Andrey Borodin, acquired the 
300 riverside acres that is Park Place for £120m 
through yet another BVI company, Durio Ltd. 
Borodin currently enjoys political asylum in the 
UK while the Russians pursue him over fraud allegations.

Borodin is one of scores of wealthy Russians who 
have bought English property through offshore 
companies. When the Eye looked at one of 
Britain’s richest streets, Kensington Palace 
Gardens, it emerged that one home had been 
acquired (reportedly for a nine-figure sum) by 
the oil-to-media businessman who topped the most 
recent Sunday Times Rich List, Leonard Blavatnik.

He used a Delaware company, while neighbour, 
fellow oligarch and Chelsea FC owner Roman 
Abramovich bought his pile through a Cyprus 
company. Since 2005 six other properties on the 
same road have been bought by BVI companies, two 
by companies registered in St Vincent and Grenadines and one in the Bahamas.

It is not known who is behind these latter 
purchases, nor where their money came from, but 
whoever they were they found an almost indecently 
willing seller at the heart of the British 
establishment. The freeholds on Kensington Palace 
Gardens are owned by The Crown Estate, which 
means they are legally property of the Queen but 
with all profits going to the Treasury, less 25 
percent of operating profit which since 2012 has 
replaced Brenda’s civil list payments.

Such a body ­ which also owns prime London 
property from Westminster to Hyde Park and 
swathes of coastal Britain ­ might be expected to 
show some reluctance to sell offshore (even to 
the Queen’s own tax havens). But the Eye 
discovered that in the two years up to March 
2014, it sold £135m worth to offshore companies.

In total the Eye found 120 former Crown Estate 
properties that, directly or indirectly, have 
ended up owned by companies in tax havens 
including Panama and the Seychelles. The real 
owners of most remain entirely anonymous.

Arms houses
Riches from yesteryear’s questionable businesses 
are evident in the capital, meanwhile. 
Instrumental in the latest bribery scandal 
exposed by the Eye, involving a decades-old 
telecommunications contract with the Saudi 
Arabian National Guard, was Lebanese fixer 
Mahmoud Fustok through a firm run with his 
brother Mansour. Information contained in the 
“Swissleaks” data of HSBC Geneva accounts 
obtained by the International Consortium of 
Investigative Journalists gave Mansour’s London 
address as a house in St John’s Wood owned by a 
Panamanian company, Restonal Naviera SA. Other 
Saudi arms veterans to have luxuriated in 
London’s smarter addresses courtesy of the 
offshore corporate network include Riyadh’s 
defence minister at the time of the infamous Al 
Yamamah deal, Sultan bin Abdulaziz, who died in 
2011 but until then was said to ultimately own a 
row of mansion blocks in Knightsbridge recently 
put on the market for £300m by companies 
registered in the Caribbean haven of Curaçao. The 
big Saudi name in that deal, chief negotiator 
Prince Bandar, owns 2,000-acre Glympton Park in 
Oxfordshire through a Jersey company, while 
another facilitator on the deal, Wafic Said, owns 
nearby Tusmore Park through another Panamanian company.

Decades of Middle Eastern turmoil have been kind 
to London’s estate agents. Saddam Hussein’s main 
arms broker, Ramzi Dalloul, has a home in 
exclusive Phillimore Gardens, Kensington, owned 
through Liberian company Edenroc Ltd, while his 
Lebanese compatriot Faoud Makhzoumi owns a home 
in nearby Cheniston Gardens through a Panamanian company, Aminvest Corporation.

Makhzoumi came to Britain’s attention as a friend 
of disgraced 1980s Tory defence minister Jonathan 
Aitken, who failed to disclose his connections to 
the dealer. The Tory association is no thing of 
the past, either: Faoud’s wife May donated to the 
Tories as recently as 2013 and has given £1m in 
total since 2010. Aminvest is administered by 
Arbuthnot Latham, the private bank chaired by 
former Tory treasurer and major donor Sir Henry Angest.

Lifting the veil
If the benefits of offshore companies for holding 
UK property are ever to be fully withdrawn, some 
wealthy Tory donors will have to be upset in the 
process. One of the single largest donors, with 
£3m handed over so far, is Australian-born 
“non-dom” hedge fund manager Michael Hintze, 
whose Clapham Common home is owned by a Guernsey 
company, itself controlled by a series of trusts.

Figures analysed by the Eye show that the use of 
offshore companies is not slowing. In three years 
up to March 2015, in just the London boroughs of 
Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Camden 
(taking in Hyde Park), £8bn of property 
acquisitions were made in this way. But Land 
Registry data does not disclose the ultimate 
owner of the property. David Cameron’s plans come 
nowhere near to doing so either. The Eye’s online 
map, however, provides the starting point from 
which readers and others can begin to lift the 
veil of offshore secrecy that covers Britain.
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