The UK capital is well-known as a playground for Russia’s ultra-rich but the true scale of ‘Londongrad’ could be far greater than official records show.
Exclusive analysis compiled for Homes & Property has revealed there are 1,895 Russian-owned properties in London alone, over three times higher than official figures of 795.
The existing records on Russian ownership have long been considered a lowball estimation, as they only include those which show up in Land Registry or Companies House searches. The new data by HARNESS Data Intelligence widens the search to include properties owned by companies registered offshore.
Overall the research found a huge 17,055 records for Russian-owned assets in the UK, with the most assets coming up in London. The city with the next highest number is Liverpool with 1,703.
There is no suggestion that any of these data records have links to the Putin regime. However the scale of Russian investment in the UK has come under greater scrutiny since the invasion of Ukraine and susequent sanctions on oligarchs with connections to the Kremlin.
The data also reveals the hotspots for Russian-owned property in the capital such as Westminster which has 218 properties. The borough is home to Belgravia’s Eaton Square, which has earned the nickname ‘Red Square’ due to its popularity with Russian billionaires.
Perhaps surprisingly, the London borough with the second highest number of Russian-owned properties is Lambeth in south London with 112, closely followed by the north London areas of Brent (81 ) and Camden (80). Other areas with high records include Kensington and Chelsea (74), Southwark (74) and Croydon (75).
Edwin Groenendaal, CEO of HARNESS Data Intelligence said: “We aren’t saying any of these ownerships are illegal, but the bottom line is, if you wanted to know the extent of UK ownership by these people of interest, you have to cast a wide net indeed.”
Finding out which of the UK’s 17,000 Russian-owned assets are connected to sanctioned billionaires is a challenging task, partly as many are registered to anonymous offshore companies with complex ownership structures.
Some have been uncovered, such as Beechwood House in Highgate, thought to be worth £82 million, which the government has said is owned by sanctioned Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov. Usmanov reportedly transferred Beechwood House, along with another property in Surrey and his private yacht, into an offshore trust, before he was hit by the sanctions.
UK-based billionaire Mikhail Fridman, was sanctioned by the EU and by the British government for being “closely associated” with Putin, a statement he told the BBC was “absolutely incorrect”. Fridman owns a huge property, Athlone House in north London, for which he paid £65m in 2016 and later upgraded to include a wine cellar, cinema room, swimming pool, yoga room and cigar room.
Recent research by Transparency International found that since 2016 £1.5 billion worth of property has been bought by Russians accused of corruption or with links to the Kremlin. Nearly £430 million worth is in the City of Westminster, while £283 million is in Kensington and Chelsea and £165 million is in Camden.
In its search, HARNESS linked UK addresses to ownership records and then located companies in leaked data on offshore companies published by the The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The search also takes into account parent businesses, both on the UK side as well as the offshore side but to avoid “tenuous connections”, only two degrees of separation in the companies were included.
Roarie Scarisbrick, partner at prime real estate advisory Property Vision, said the higher ownership records were unsurprising as Russians have been buying up property in the capital for years.
Russian migration to the UK hit its peak in the mid-2000s, he said, adding: “In around 2012, this started to subside and in the last few years the Russian buyers we have seen are those who already live in London.”
“You had two cohorts. Those in central London who bought flats in Belgravia. Or those with children who would look in Hampstead or Highgate to get a house of the scale a family would need. They would also head to estates in the suburbs, like Wentworth in Surrey.”
Scarisbrick said while it used to be commonplace for buyers to purchase properties through offshore companies, he thought it had become less widespread since the government’s crackdown on tax evasion in 2015.