Report | July 22, 2015

Mystery on Baker Street

Big chunks of Baker Street are owned by a mysterious figure with close ties to a former Kazakh secret police chief accused of murder and money-laundering.

The mystery owner of a £147 million London property empire which included the Elvis and Beatles’ Stores can be linked to a former Kazakh secret police chief accused of murder, torture and money-laundering, this report shows. The property includes 221 Baker Street - where Sherlock Homes would have lived had he and his fictional apartment 221b really existed.

In 2009, an unknown individual acquired a network of offshore-owned companies which in turn invested in £147 million worth of prime property in some of the capital’s most famous addresses. Documents seen by Global Witness reveal how the managers of these companies are linked to Rakhat Aliyev, the former Kazakh secret police chief found hanged in an Austrian prison in February 2015 while awaiting trial for the murder of two bankers in his home country.

British Virgin Islands
"Like other great world cities, London appears increasingly attractive to the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Our research shows property is a big blind spot in the UK’s anti-corruption fight, and that has dire consequences. Unless we know who is behind these companies and where their money has come from, the cash will keep pouring in." Chido Dunn, Senior Campaigner, Global Witness.

Aliyev had previously been convicted of the bankers’ kidnapping in Kazakhstan, and since 2005 faced money-laundering investigations in several European countries including Germany, Austria and Malta. 

However, this is the first time that the links between Aliyev and London properties have been revealed. The London property transactions went through at the same time as Aliyev’s business interests were being investigated by EU authorities and Interpol. Aliyev died before he could face trial for the crimes of which he was accused.

Chido Dunn, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness, was featured on Channel 4 News discussing David Cameron's announcement to crack down on "dodgy cash" entering Britain's property market.

Increasingly, London’s high-end property market is one of the go-to destinations to give questionable funds a veneer of respectability. This kind of access to the financial system entrenches the corruption that keeps citizens in poor countries poor and threatens global stability.

rakhat aliyevIt is far too easy for the criminal and corrupt to launder money through luxury property, hiding the real owners behind anonymous companies, often registered in secrecy jurisdictions like the BVI and hidden behind “nominee” directors.

At least £122bn worth of property in England and Wales is now owned by companies registered offshore, and 75% of properties whose owners are under investigation for corruption made use of this kind of secrecy.

Global Witness is calling for all companies that own UK property to be required to tell the Land Registry who their beneficial owners are, and for the UK to convince the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to create their own public registers of beneficial ownership. Global Witness is calling for an investigation into these companies, the properties they own, and real person behind them. Systemic changes are also needed, following the UK's recent commitment to creating a public registry of the real owners of UK companies.

The companies that own these properties and the people that manage them have categorically denied that Rakhat Aliyev is or was the true owner, but have refused to identify that owner, citing reasons of confidentiality. Global Witness does not allege that the various companies in this property empire or the individuals that manage them have been knowingly involved in money laundering.  However, that Aliyev can even be linked to expensive property in such a recognisable address is worthy of investigation.

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  • Oliver Courtney

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