Register of UK property held offshore lists 40 owners under sanctions

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Nearly 40 individuals and entities declared as being under sanctions, including three Russian tycoons, hold British property through offshore vehicles, according to an analysis of an official ownership register.

The British government launched the register in August 2022 in an effort to tackle the flow of illicit money into the UK.

Ministers set a deadline of Tuesday night for owners of 32,440 registered overseas organisations to declare their beneficial ownership status or face fines. Just fewer than 20,000 have complied so far.

An analysis of registrations by the Financial Times and research group Open Ownership revealed that they included three sanctions-hit Russian businessmen, a string of billionaires and several donors to the Conservative party.

The new register pierces the opaque ownership structures behind some of the UK’s most expensive properties, six years after it was first promised by then prime minister David Cameron.

It is not illegal for sanctions-hit individuals or entities to hold British assets, whether offshore or otherwise. However, such assets are generally frozen by the government until restrictions are lifted.

As part of registration, company owners must declare whether they are subject to financial sanctions in the UK.

Vladimir Potanin, the beneficial owner of part of a City office block, was placed under sanctions because of his involvement with Rosbank © Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The analysis found that part of a City of London office block is ultimately owned by Vladimir Potanin, a nickel tycoon and one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs.

Potanin is listed as the beneficial owner of part of the block, held via a Cyprus-based arm of Norilsk Nickel. Potanin has been under UK sanctions since last year because of his involvement with Russian bank Rosbank.

Norilsk Nickel, which is not subject to sanctions, said the property was held on a long-term lease.

“Since Mr Potanin is an ultimate beneficial owner of Norilsk Nickel and in absence of other UBOs holding above 25 per cent, Mr Potanin’s name is filed with the UK register of overseas entities,” a spokesman said.

Igor Shuvalov, a former deputy first minister of Russia, is revealed as the ultimate owner of two flats in Whitehall Court, Westminster, bought for £11.4mn in 2014. The leaseholds are owned through a Russian company called Sova Real Estate.

Shuvalov, who has been chair of state bank VEB since 2018, was hit with UK sanctions in March. In an update at the time, the government said he was “a core party of [Vladimir] Putin’s inner circle” and owned two “luxury apartments in central London worth an estimated £11mn”. VEB did not respond to a request for comment.

Alexander Frolov also appears in the register. The businessman and former director of Russian steel producer Evraz was placed under UK sanctions last year. He could not be reached for comment and Evraz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The register has also unearthed prime real estate owned by property tycoon and Conservative donor Nick Candy.

Candy owns a £160mn Knightsbridge flat via a Guernsey-based vehicle called PHB London Limited, as well as four other properties also held via offshore vehicles.

Nick Candy’s One Hyde Park in Knightsbridge
Nick Candy’s One Hyde Park in Knightsbridge. He owns a £160mn flat and four other properties via offshore vehicles © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

An individual close to Candy said that the Guernsey companies were all UK resident for tax reasons.

The billionaire property tycoon brothers David and Simon Reuben, who have donated more than £900,000 to the Conservative party, are beneficiaries of 106 companies that own property in the UK, mostly incorporated in the British Virgin Isles, the analysis showed.

The Reubens’ property portfolio includes Admiralty Arch, a grand building close to Trafalgar Square that is being redeveloped into a luxury hotel.

A spokesperson for the brothers said the Guernsey ownership of the building was set up by a previous owner.

“These [106] entities have always been liable to UK taxes on their UK holdings and any taxes due have been paid in compliance with [HM Revenue & Customs]. The Reuben Brothers also hold substantial property and trading interests through UK companies,” the spokesperson said.

Sanjeev Gupta, the tycoon who controls Liberty Steel through his company GFG — which is currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office — owns a Chelsea property through a company incorporated in the Bahamas, the files reveal. A spokesperson for Gupta declined to comment

Additional reporting by Cynthia O’Murchu

Source: Financial Times

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