At Global Witness, we sometimes wear several hats. In my most recent (and unusual) incarnation, I was a Tour Guide on a London bus tour with a difference – visiting a collection of the City’s most lavish properties, and raising questions about the people that own them and the money that was used to buy them. We’ve written about that before – see here.
The other guides and I took a collection of parliamentarians, journalists and members of the public on a dramatic 3-hour journey through the heart of London. They were told tales about how the City’s high-end property market has a dark secret – it is one of the go-to destinations for dirty money. They learned that stashing dodgy cash in London’s homes gives that money (and the people that carry it) a veneer of respectability. We explained how this kind of access to the financial system is bad for everyone – it entrenches the corruption that keeps citizens in poor countries poor and threatens global stability, and it drives up house prices.
My fellow guides were Vladimir Ashurkov (Russian politician & Executive Director, Russian Anti-Corruption Foundation), Ben Judah (journalist and author of soon-to-be-released This is London), Mark Hollingsworth (journalist and author of Londongrad), Oliver Bullough (journalist and author of The Last Man in Russia), Dr. Andrew Foxall (Director of the Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society), Peter Pomeranzev (journalist and author of Nothing is True and Everything is Possible) and Roman Borisovich (anti-corruption activist and star of the documentary From Russia With Cash).
Our tour started in Whitehall, and travelled through Knightsbridge, South Kensington and its ‘Billionaire’s Row’, Hampstead, and Highgate. It finished on Baker Street, where I spoke about how big chunks of the street are owned by a mysterious figure with close ties to a former Kazakh secret police chief accused of murder and money-laundering.
The tour was a great success – it was covered by the BBC London Live News (see below), the Guardian, the Independent, Vice News, the Spectator, the Economist and the Times. It also featured further afield – in the New York Times, El Pais, Ukraine Today and Voice of America.
Watch from 6m 50s for this story on BBC London News
At Global Witness, we have been talking about this issue for years, and that conversation is about to get a whole lot louder. Prime Minister David Cameron has heeded our calls to make the property market more transparent and to stop the dirty money from pouring in. In a matter of weeks, we can expect the government to invite input from us and others as to how that might actually work in practice. So it feels like this issue is being taken seriously in the right places – but it’s a long way from fixed just yet.
And this May, the UK government is hosting an Anti-Corruption Summit – the first of its kind. We expect that the Prime Minister will use it to announce a concrete measure that will – once and for all – close off London’s property market to dodgy cash.