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 £147m 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, new evidence from Global Witness reveals. 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 (1).
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.
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.
“Like other great world cities, London appears increasingly attractive to the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Even Holmes and Watson would have their work cut out investigating the suspect cash flooding into its property market, because the system is so riddled with loopholes. Our research shows property is a big blind spot in the UK’s anti-corruption fight, and that has dire consequences. Some of the Gaddafi family’s stolen loot ended up in London – a famous example but far from a one-off. Unless we know who is behind these companies and where their money has come, the cash will keep pouring in,” said Chido Dunn, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness.
It 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.
Known as “Sugar” because of his vast holdings in the global sugar trade, Rakhat Aliyev, who was married until 2007 to the president of Kazakhstan’s eldest daughter, amassed a vast personal fortune through a network of more than 40 companies, despite having served in public office for the majority of his career. His business empire has been mired in controversy and allegations that he illegally acquired other people’s businesses while a Kazakh official. His multi-millionaire eldest son, Nurali, was recently appointed the deputy mayor of Kazakhstan’s capital city, Astana. According to recent reports, Nurali is being groomed to be the successor of President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan
Although the owner of the £147m property empire remains a mystery, Rakhat Aliyev is clearly connected to a number of the people and companies involved:
- The current director of the property companies was also the
director and manager of two companies that are known to be owned by Rakhat
- A former director of the property companies was the director
of a Swiss company of which Nurali Aliyev was president.
- Another director of the property companies was for 11 years
the director of a different Swiss company with strong links to Rakhat Aliyev.
This shows that the ultimate owner of the London property empire has a number of different links to Aliyev and his son, Nurali. 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. Some have expressly denied having any relationship, whether professional or personal with Rakhat Aliyev, either directly or through intermediaries. In addition, it has been claimed that Nurali Aliyev is estranged from his father following the allegations of murder made against Aliyev Sr (2).
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 and members of Kazakhstan’s first family can even be linked to expensive property in such a recognisable address is deeply troubling, but it is not an isolated case.
“This latest example shows the urgent need for transparency in the UK’s property market and its system of company ownership. All the signs for who owns this property empire point to someone close to Rakhat Aliyev and the Kazakh ‘ruling family’, but the real owner remains a mystery. We need to be able to know who owns London’s properties and where the money to buy them came from,” said Dunn.
Global Witness is calling for an investigation into these companies, the properties they own, and the 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.
- All companies that own UK property (whether
they are registered in the UK or offshore) should be made to tell the Land
Registry who their beneficial owners are.
- Real estate agents should be made to carry
out checks to make sure they know who is behind a company that is buying UK
- The UK should consolidate its leadership role
on transparency by convincing the British Overseas Territories and Crown
Dependencies to create their own public registers of beneficial ownership.
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