THE National Crime Agency (NCA) last week deployed a new anti-corruption weapon for which there are high hopes: the so-called “unexplained wealth order”. It designated two properties, worth £22m and held by an unknown eastern European, as probably acquired from dirty money.
Investigators will now demand an account of where the dosh came from with a view, in the absence of a satisfactory explanation, to confiscation. Whether this heralds a new front in the war on kleptocracy or just a shrewd PR move at the launch of a new policy remains to be seen; but the Eye – which has exposed the extent of prime property ownership through offshore companies as a key money-laundering device – has identified several more the authorities might want to look at under their new powers.
Goodluck Jonathan, former president of Nigeria, and his wife Patience appear to be behind a £4.5m mansion called “Hillside” on the St George’s Hill estate in Weybridge, Surrey (Eye 1438). The property was acquired via BVI company Transocean Group Holdings.
Jonathan’s compatriot, Folorunsho “Folly” Folarin-Coker, former head of the number plate production authority in Lagos, resides at a Georgian townhouse in Chelsea that was acquired for £2.4m in 2010 – while Folly held office – via Marshall Islands company Express Holdings Ltd.
Volodymyr Galanternik, a Ukrainian mafia boss, resides at an apartment in The Knightsbridge, a luxury apartment block near Harrods. The apartment was acquired in 2015 for £4.6m via Isle of Man company Piantoon Ltd. Eye 1458 revealed how the Paradise Papers showed that Galanternik – a close crony of mobster mayor of Odessa Gennadiy Trukhanov – lurked behind scores of dubious UK “limited liability partnerships”.
John Bredenkamp, a Zimbabwean arms dealer, resides in a townhouse in Chester Square, Belgravia. The property was acquired in 2009 for £2.5m via BVI company South Compass (Ptc) Ltd. Bredenkamp was named in Serious Fraud Office (SFO) documents as a recipient of £24m in dubious commissions between 2000 and 2005 from British arms behemoth BAE Systems on a deal to sell Saab fighters and Hawk trainer jets to the governments of South Africa and Tanzania. BAE paid Bredenkamp via accounts at LGT Bank in Liechtenstein and First Curaçao International Bank in Holland.
Another fixer cut into that deal was Nabil Hijazi, a former UAE diplomat who has a mansion in Holland Park, west London, and is the shareholder of the company that owns it. The property was most recently acquired for £19m in 2016, via BVI company NH Nominees (PTC) Ltd. Hijazi – described by subjects interviewed by the SFO as “instrumental” in BAE’s bribery-laden Al Yamamah arms deal – received £8m from BAE Systems between 2000 and 2002 via an account at LGT in Liechtenstein.
Another arms dealer, Christian Michel, resides at a townhouse in Chesham Street in Chelsea. The property was acquired in 2010 for £2m by BVI company Joylyn Investments Ltd. Michel is named in Italian court documents as a key intermediary in a £400m deal to supply helicopters to the Indian government. He is alleged to have funnelled bribes totalling €30m from Anglo-Italian chopper-maker AgustaWestland to decision-makers in the Indian military.
In January, Transparency International listed a further five suspicious UK property owners, including Russian deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov and the family of Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. Dozens of others connected to Saudi Arabia and Gulf states could be included if simply having the right family connections is deemed not a good enough explanation of vast wealth. The success of UWOs will depend not just on the capacity of law enforcers such as the NCA and SFO to implement them, but also on the political appetite for upsetting such individuals – especially from a government whose international trade minister Baroness Fairhead recently visited Baku to schmooze Aliyev for post-Brexit business.
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