London tours highlight multi-million dollar properties owned by foreign oligarchs
One is a 40-room mansion once overtaken by squatters and dubbed the “Anal Embassy”.
Another occupies an entire block, complete with “iceberg” basement and includes an underground station next door.
Welcome to househunting, oligarch style.
Now a new tour is pointing out lavish London property owned by billionaires based in Russia, Africa and the Middle East.
Run by campaigner Roman Borisovich, it aims to highlight the billions of dollars washing around the English capital contributing to the ghost suburbs known as “lights out London”, said news.com.au.
The Russian national once made a documentary posing as a politician trying to buy property with illicit funds called From Russia with Cash. Now, the backer of Putin opponent Alexei Navalny, wants to shine a light on the influx of foreign money and the accountants, agents and lawyers lining their pockets.
“The Russians are attracted to central London. To flashy, to lavish property,” he said. “Our aim is to shine a light on the businessmen who operate in those environments.”
On a rainy day in London, a bus packed with foreign journalists drives by some of London’s most prestigious addresses complete with leafy private gardens, jaguars out front and corner shops selling Valentino.
It includes a former Spanish school in Eaton Square, Chelsea owned by Russian billionaire Andrey Goncharenko. The CEO of a Gazprom subsidiary bought it in 2014 but was taken over by 30 squatters from the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians, who dubbed it the Anal Embassy.
The Last Man in Russia author Oliver Bullough – who has been inside the property – said the group would use the trick of leaving rubbish on the doorstep to find out if anyone was home before moving in to live rent-free.
“Some of the decorations left by the squatters … aren’t necessarily very complimentary to him or his friends. But it will be a gorgeous townhouse for someone who needs 30 or 40 rooms to rattle around in,” he said.
The Eaton Square property is just one of four multi-million pound homes reportedly owned by Goncharenko. He’s among several wealthy Russians with close links to Putin who have been buying up in the English capital for years.
Other properties include a mews house on Cadogan Lane reportedly used by Roman Rotenburg, the son of Putin’s childhood judo partner, Boris. The Panama Papers revealed another apartment at 200 Sloane Street is owned by Olga Babakova, the daughter of a Russian MP.
Another 28-bedroom property Witanhurst in Highgate – the largest residence in London outside Buckingham Palace – remained secret for years before it was revealed as belonging to Russian tycoon and former senator Andrei Guriev.
30 squatters booted from ‘ANAL Embassy’
Elsewhere in the capital, a huge property at Cottage Place in Knightsbridge is owned by Ukrainian businessman Dmitry Firtash, who also bought the defunct Brompton Road tube station next door for £53 million (NZ$97 million).
Foreign property ownership in the UK is perfectly legal, as is buying through holding companies based offshore. But critics say it drives up property prices for locals and strips communities of life. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also vowed to provide more transparency in the market, with an investigation currently underway.
It’s not just Europeans attracted to London property, where it’s estimated at least £170 billion (NZ$311 billion) worth is under foreign ownership.
Nigerian oil baron Arthur Eze reportedly owns a residential property in the city. The Marriott Hotel and Four Seasons on Park Lane are owned by the Premier Group, linked to the King of Bahrain, a Financial Times investigation found.
Henry Jackson Society’s Russia Studies Centre Dr Andrew Foxall said London has huge appeal for global billionaires because it’s a safe haven for investments with plenty of other assets.
“What they look for as well is good schools for example, what they want are other opportunities to spend their money. So they look for cultural initiatives, they look to support museums, art galleries and so on,” he said.
Kingston University “anti-economics” professor Steve Keen said ordinary people have little idea about the “astonishing” wealth washing around the streets of global cities.
“You walk past a building like that and your first reaction might be is that a block of apartments? It might be an office … People have no idea that amount of money is going through this system.”