Find out which properties in Camden, Haringey and Barnet are owned by offshore companies
PUBLISHED: 07:00 08 September 2016 | UPDATED: 12:23 08 September 2016
Global billions have flooded into the local property market through the secretive world of offshore buying, the Ham&High can today reveal.
Our investigation has shown overseas companies have spent more than £2.5billion buying houses, offices and land in Camden, Barnet and Haringey through offshore companies from 2010-2014.
It is a trend that has seen the world’s rich “buying property like they buy bricks of gold”, in the words of Camden councillor Theo Blackwell.
Some of the most notable sales we found in Land Registry records were:
* The £73m sale in which a prestigious private finance company was involved in a deal to buy mansions in Barnet’s world famous Billionaire’s Row, reputedly from Saudi royals.
* An offshore shell company registered in Luxembourg bought the Google building in King’s Cross for £77.5m in 2013. The building is leased by the internet giant and Google was not involved in the deal.
* Employees of one of the world’s most prominent Islamic financial institutions, the Qatari investment bank QInvest, were involved in a deal to buy the Barrow Hill reservoir site in Primrose Hill for £44m in 2010.
* A property in Royal College Street, NW1, worth millions was bought for just £200 in 2013 by the Belize-based Shore Line Energy International Ltd.
* An offshore company in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) bought land on the Highgate Bowl site for £2m and a Jersey company bought the former Ham&High building at 100 Avenue Road for £33.5m. Community groups have fiercely opposed the proposed development of both sites.
The lucrative trade has not always benefitted local boroughs.
Campaigners say offshore investors often play no part in the neighbourhoods where they buy property and are not invested in the community.
Maggy Meade-King, chair of Highgate Neighbourhood Forum, said: “They don’t shop in the shops, they’re not seen in the restaurants and pubs, it contributes nothing to our economy and they play no part in our community life.”
The influx of global billions is also said to have fuelled rocketing house values that have priced out even the most affluent local buyers.
“If at the top of the market you’ve got ridiculous prices then there’s a knock-on effect further down,” said Ms Meade-King.
“It means that ordinary Londoners find it very hard to live in neighbourhoods like this and that is definitely a concern.”
The Ham&High found some of Hampstead and Highgate’s most luxurious mansions and King’s Cross and Kentish Town’s trendiest apartments have been snapped up in the offshore property bonanza.
We also found evidence of companies buying large numbers of flats in one deal, particularly in the fashionable new developments around King’s Cross.
Eight flats in the new Arthouse apartment block in York Way were bought in one month in 2014 by the BVI company Marvel Riches Ltd.
The flats sold for prices from £412,250 to £1m, making them some of Camden’s more affordable homes.
Another BVI company, Emperor Property Holdings Ltd, bought 22 flats in one £15million deal at Boydell Court in St John’s Wood Park, Swiss Cottage, in 2012.
It was not possible for the Ham&High to discover the ultimate owners of these properties due to the anonymity surrounding BVI shell companies.
Estate agent Ben Felfeli, of CH Peppiatt in Chalk Farm, said British buyers were losing out to the deep pockets of overseas competitors.
“We already had high demand last year for first-time buyers,” he said. “Supply was very short and British residents just could not compete with the foreign investors. It would have pushed prices up.”
The Ham&High used data gathered from the UK Land Registry using FOI requests submitted by Private Eye to reveal 1,260 properties in local postcodes in Camden, Haringey and Barnet were bought offshore from 2010 to 2014.
Our investigation has shown one in 10 of all Camden properties was bought offshore in 2015, a figure that shocked even seasoned estate agents in the borough.
James Morton, director at Benham & Reeves, Hampstead, said: “It’s quite surprising for me to hear that the percentage is that high. It might be a certain part of the market where this is happening, either the really big mansions worth £10m, £20m, £30m, or companies buying lots of flats in one development.”
Camden has the fifth highest number of offshore buyers in London as a percentage of total sales, after Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Hillingdon and City of London.
Anyone from a first-time buyer to an international conglomerate can perfectly legally and at very little cost set up an offshore company to buy UK property.
But critics say the secrecy inherent in the system is a worry.
“The Highgate Bowl is an example where the community has been trying to engage with the owners about the sort of development we would like to see” said Ms Meade-King.
“If you can’t even find out who the owner is it makes it extremely difficult. There’s a concern too that these people tend to have bottomless pockets to employ fancy lawyers and planning consultants.”
She called for all offshore companies to be forced to declare an owner to the UK Land Registry.
Cllr Blackwell, Camden cabinet member for finance, backed the calls for more transparency.
“The question is why are people using offshore financial vehicles for these transactions, is it to escape or minimise their tax in the UK?” he said.
“If so this calls for the government to really look into this because these property transactions have got enough zeros on the end to be serious money.”
THE BILLIONAIRE’S ROW £73M MANSIONS DEAL
The deal to buy £73million of mansions on The Bishop’s Avenue was one of the single largest offshore property transactions locally over the last six years.
The street has long been known as Billionaire’s Row because of its allure to the global super rich and the sellers of the luxury mansions - named Ilkley House, Redcroft, The Georgians, The Towers, and 1-5 Arden Court - were reputedly Saudi royals.
At some point on October 16, 2013 ownership transferred to a shell company in the Isle of Man called Birch Ventures Limited.
The registered office of Birch Ventures is at Commerce House, 1 Bowring Road, Isle of Man.
This is also the address of a private wealth management business which trades as LJ Partnership, and also has offices off New Bond Street in Mayfair.
According to its website LJ Partnership is the trading name of a group of regulated investment entities which are owned or controlled by LJ GP Partnership Ltd.
The Ham&High can reveal that one of those investment entities is LJ Management (IOM) Ltd.
Birch Ventures Ltd is owned jointly by two companies, each of which is in turn owned by LJ Management (IOM) Ltd.
This example shows just how complex the structure of offshore companies can be, and it is often impossible to identify a named owner as many jurisdictions do not make this information publicly available.
LJ Partnership did not wish to comment when contacted by the Ham&High.
Planning has already been granted to build 44 luxury flats on part of The Bishop’s Avenue site and it is currently for sale undeveloped at a guide price of £75million.
Our research showed £250million of property in The Bishop’s Avenue was sold to offshore buyers from 2010 to 2014.
OTHER NOTABLE SALES TO OFFSHORE COMPANIES:
* Planning documents show Russian billionaire oligarch Andrey Goncharenko was the buyer of a £41.7m mansion in Lyndhurst Road through an offshore company Starcluster Ltd in Gibraltar in 2011.
* A grand former matron’s house and two other buildings once part of Highgate School in Bishopswood Road were bought via a Cyprus holding company for £17.5m in 2014.
* Furnival House in Cholmeley Park, Highgate, was bought by a Jersey company for £14.4m in 2013 and Somerlese mansion in Courtenay Avenue for £11m by a Guernsey company in 2012.
* Parts of the world famous Camden Market were bought by the Guernsey-based Camden Lock Market Limited for £25.4m in 2012.
* The Ham&High’s former office building at 100 Avenue Road was bought by Jersey company Essential Living (Swiss Cottage) Limited for £33.5m in 2012. Multi-billion dollar global real estate group M3 Capital Partners lists Essential Living as one of its real estate companies.
* England’s Lane Residence homeless hostel in Belsize Park was bought by a British Virgin Islands shell company called Cisco Property Ltd for £27.25m in 2012. The company appears in the Panama Papers data leak, which revealed shell companies set up by the Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca.
* The South African government bought the house where Oliver Tambo ran the anti-apartheid African National Congress party in the 1960s in Alexandra Park Road, Muswell Hill, for £1.6m in 2010.
See the Ham&High’s interactive map at the top of the page to find out which properties in your street or area are owned by offshore companies
WHAT IS AN OFFSHORE PROPERTY SALE?
When houses, office blocks or land in the UK are bought by a company registered in another country this is an offshore property sale.
There are tax advantages to buying property in this way, particularly savings on Stamp Duty Land Tax when the property is sold on.
But tax expert Richard Murphy said the most important reason for firms buying property offshore was for anonymity.
“Some of these companies don’t want you to know who owns the property,” he said. “Nobody knows who really controls it.”
Offshore companies do not have to register an ultimate owner with the UK Land Registry.
Mr Murphy said this undermines the UK tax system and the Land Registry.
NEXT WEEK: We reveal the treasured community pubs bought by offshore speculators