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The sanctioned oligarch’s son and a £160m London property empire

·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

The son of a Russian billionaire sanctioned for supporting the dictator who runs Belarus has been linked to a £160m portfolio of London properties.

Said Gutseriev, a 34-year-old businessman with British and Russian nationality, appears to have spent years amassing a collection of at least seven properties in central London, according to the findings of a joint investigation by the Guardian and the Belarusian Investigative Center, part of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

The portfolio ranges from large office buildings in the City to a pair of £17m townhouses in south Kensington knocked together to make one residence.

Said’s father, Mikhail Gutseriev, was blacklisted last year, by the EU in June and the UK in August, months after the violent repression of protests which threatened to bring to an end 26 years of autocratic rule by Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko. The UK government described Gutseriev as “a longstanding associate” of the president, and had used his business interests to support Lukashenko’s government.

All of the properties examined in the investigation were bought before Mikhail was sanctioned. Six were acquired between 2004 and 2012, when Said was either at school or university, or was just starting his career at the FTSE 100 commodities trader Glencore. Said attended £14,500 a term Harrow school before studying at Oxford.

Leaked documents suggest Said was given a head start thanks to his family’s wealth. One of the properties appears to ultimately belong to a trust established by his father in 2007. Said was listed as a beneficiary of the trust in official paperwork from 2008 and 2009 seen by the Guardian. The paperwork also names him as a beneficiary of a second trust, established in 2004 by his grandmother, Marem Gutserieva. Said controls a stake in Russneft, the Russian oil company that was part-owned by his father until the latter transferred his holding to his brother in August 2021.

A spokesperson for Said Gutseriev said he has no financial or commercial links to his father, and always acts in accordance with applicable law, including on sanctions. The spokesperson did not dispute Said’s ownership of any of the properties.

The information about assets linked to him in the UK raises questions about whether sanctions should apply to family members.

85 Fleet Street in the City of London.
85 Fleet Street in the City of London. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Tom Keatinge, director of the centre for financial crime and security studies at the thinktank Rusi, said: “One of the challenges that western countries will now be having is identifying the true extent of assets that should be frozen under sanctions regimes. It’s reasonable to look closely at assets owned by family members – not just asset purchases in recent years but transfers in the past.”

The properties that appear to be linked to Said were uncovered in analysis by Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog, using data from the Land Registry, UK Companies House and offshore leaks obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Most were bought using companies incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven which allows company owners to remain hidden.

They include:

  • A £19m office block called the Gloucester Building on Avonmore Road.

  • Austin Friars House, London, a £41m office building at the centre of the City of London.

  • 82-85 Fleet Street, London, a £70m office building in the City of London.

  • 64-65 Vincent Square, London, an £8.7m office block near Victoria railway station.

  • A pair of £17m Grade II-listed stucco-fronted townhouses remodelled to create a single residence on Queen’s Gate Place, just south of Hyde Park.

  • A £2.5m mews house in Petersham Mews, Kensington.

  • A £5.7m townhouse on Green Street in Mayfair.

The Queen’s Gate Place home, a listed building near London’s Natural History Museum, has been used by Said as his main London residence. It underwent extensive renovations in 2013, with planning documents showing ornate, gold-painted walls, elaborately carved cornices, classically painted murals and chandeliers.

Queen’s Gate Place SW7
Queen’s Gate Place in South Kensington. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Another property, Lilly House at 13 Hanover Square in London, was sold for £69m in November last year.

Said’s net worth is estimated at $1.3bn (£1bn) by Forbes, a valuation the magazine said was based on stakes in oil, coal, retail and financial businesses, some of which were previously owned by his father.

Said is the major shareholder of SFI, a Russian company formerly called Safmar Financial Investments in which Mikhail was previously a “controlling shareholder”, according to its annual reports. Mikhail served alongside his son on SFI’s board until November 2021. SFI owns a stake in Russneft and in the online retailer M.Video, a business originally bought by the father.

In the last year, Said is understood to have severed some financial ties with companies previously linked to his father and with Russia and Belarus. He reportedly resigned in August 2021 as the head of ForteInvest, an oil refinery company where he had been made chief executive in 2014 at the age of 26. A company press release said Forteinvest was owned by his father’s Safmar Group as recently as late 2020. In August 2021, he sold his stake in the Belarus-based cryptocurrency exchange Currency.com, according to local media.

64-65 Vincent Square, SW1
64-65 Vincent Square in Westminster. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Ben Cowdock, the investigations lead for Transparency International UK, said: “Following the money is critical to making financial sanctions bite. Those who are targeted by sanctions may have shared their wealth among family, friends and associates.”

Said studied archaeology and anthropology at St Peter’s College, Oxford, and in 2019 the university created a Gutseriev fellowship after he donated £2.6m. When he married in 2016, Sting, Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias performed at the opulent celebrations, which took place in London and Moscow.

Gutseriev’s spokesperson said: “Mr Said Gutseriev does not have any financial or commercial links to Mr Mikhail Gutseriev and cannot be termed a business partner of his father’s. To suggest otherwise is factually incorrect. Mr Said Gutseriev is a British national and resident, he understands fully the scope and application of sanctions targeting his father, and always acts in accordance with applicable law.

“Any suggestion that he holds any funds or assets for, or makes funds or assets available to, his father is factually incorrect. He has no financial or business links to any sanctioned individuals or entities and acts in full compliance with UK sanctions. To suggest otherwise is factually incorrect.

“Mr Said Gutseriev is not a political figure and has no personal or financial links to the Russian or Belarussian governments.

“He urges a peaceful resolution to the fighting in Ukraine and condemns the alleged human rights abuses. Any instances of human rights abuses should be tried according to international law and anyone found guilty punished with the full force of the law.”

Mikhail Gutseriev did not respond to requests for comment.

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