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Who Owns What Where? British Antigraft Push And Ex-Soviet Elites' Lavish Properties

  • RFE/RL

The London apartment that is at the center of a controversy surrounding Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov (marked in red)

The London apartment that is at the center of a controversy surrounding Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov (marked in red)

Political and business elites from the former Soviet Union will face more public scrutiny of their expensive real-estate holdings in Britain under a new plan announced by Prime Minister David Cameron on May 12.

Under the initiative, aimed at cracking down on inflows of dirty money, foreign companies that own or buy real estate in Britain would have to sign up to a public registry disclosing the properties' beneficial ownership. It is a response to the use of secretive offshore companies to shield the true owners' identities.

Precisely how the new rules will be enforced is unclear. But with numerous wealthy officials and businesspeople from Russia and other former Soviet countries having snapped up pricy properties in London in recent years, the initiative could ultimately force them into the spotlight.

Here’s a look at some of these individuals and their relatives whose possible ownership of British real estate could be revealed under the new rules:

Igor Shuvalov

A first deputy prime minister under President Vladimir Putin, Shuvalov has publicly acknowledged owning foreign real estate. In his mandatory income disclosures, he has stated that he rents an Austrian home and a 483-square meter apartment in London. But anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny last year accused Shuvalov of obscuring his actual ownership of the London property. He posted a British land registry document showing that ownership of the property, which overlooks the River Thames, was transferred in 2014 to a Russian company controlled by Shuvalov and his wife for a listed sale price of 11.44 million pounds ($18 million). Cameron's new transparency initiative, Navalny said on May 12, could force Shuvalov to reveal that "he is renting the apartment from his own offshore."

The Aliyevs

Documents from the trove of leaked materials known as the Panama Papers have revealed that the daughters of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev -- Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva -- control a secretive offshore company set up in the British Virgin Islands last year to help manage their multimillion-dollar real-estate holdings in Britain, according to media outlets that have seen the documents.

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which is one of the Panama Papers' partners, reported last year that a 10,500-square-foot London mansion worth more than $25 million was owned by an Isle of Man-registered firm that, in turn, was previously owned by Aliyev. The president and his wife transferred their shares in the firm to their daughter, Leyla, in 2010, the report said.

The OCCRP has tied the Aliyev family to other multimillion-dollar properties in London formally owned by offshore firms as well.

WATCH: The Mansion On the Heath (OCCRP)

Andrei Guryev

For seven years, mystery and wild speculation swirled about the ownership of London's largest private house, known as Witanhurst. A British Virgin Islands-registered firm called Safran Holdings Limited purchased the house for 50 million pounds ($72.2 million) in 2008 and rumors had long linked it to Yelena Baturina, Russia's richest woman and the wife of former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, and even to President Vladimir Putin. But an article published last year in The New Yorker magazine confirmed that the home is owned by the family of billionaire Andrei Guryev, who served 12 years in Russia’s upper house of parliament.

The New Yorker quoted Guryev's spokesman as saying that Guryev is not the "legal owner" of the home but rather a beneficiary of the firm that owns it.

Andrei Yakunin

The son of former Russian Railways head and Kremlin insider Vladimir Yakunin, Andrei Yakunin owns an eight-bedroom mansion in London worth 35 million pounds ($50 million), the Sunday Times reported in March. The younger Yakunin, a London-based investor with a British passport, owns the property through a firm registered in the British Virgin Islands called Terphos Financial Corporation. The report also said he has a registered address at a London home worth around 10 million pounds ($14.4 million) and owned by another offshore firm, Diamondrock, whose beneficiary could not be immediately established. The elder Yakunin, a longtime close associate of Putin’s, is among the Russian officials sanctioned by the United States in response to Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Roman Rotenberg

Rotenberg’s father and uncle -- Boris and Arkady, respectively -- have been judo partners of Putin's and control sprawling industrial conglomerates believed to be worth billions of dollars. Navalny and other anticorruption activists have linked Roman Rotenberg to a $4.7 million London mansion registered to a Cypriot firm called Loktan Services Limited. Reportedly a British citizen, Roman Rotenberg was sanctioned by Washington last year for alleged involvement in evasion of Ukraine- and Russia-related U.S. sanctions.

'Kleptocracy Tour'

Several of the above-mentioned homes are part of what London-based anticorruption crusaders call a Kleptocracy Tour that was launched recently. Organizers take guests around the city on a bus to show them the palatial homes owned by some of the richest people from the former Soviet Union, including Russian tycoons Roman Abramovich and Oleg Deripaska, and Ukrainian billionaires Rinat Akhmetov and Dmytro Firtash.

WATCH: A Kleptocracy Tour​ Of London

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