The row of Sixties-built homes with untidy gardens on a quiet cul-de-sac close to Richmond upon Thames seems to have little in widespread with Ecuador’s red-brick embassy in Knightsbridge, the place Julian Assange spent seven years in hiding, simply throughout the highway from Harrods.
The unassuming suburban dwellings even have little in widespread with the positioning the place the Queen was born in central London, or Sexy Fish, a seafood restaurant the place diners sit amongst Damien Hirst mermaid sculptures.
The properties, nevertheless, all type a part of a secretive £5.5bn actual property empire owned by one of many world’s wealthiest heads of state, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the United Arab Emirates and emir of Abu Dhabi.
For all of its conspicuous addresses, the portfolio’s possession has been shrouded in secrecy for many years. “It was created in a subterranean way through stealth-like deals, quietly put together over many years,” stated a supply accustomed to Khalifa’s enterprise dealings.
Now, leaked paperwork, courtroom filings and evaluation of public information have enabled the Guardian to map Khalifa’s property holdings within the UK, revealing how the oil-rich nation’s president turned a serious landlord in London. Khalifa’s London property empire seems to surpass even that of the Duke of Westminster, the 29-year-old billionaire aristocrat who owns swathes of town.
Khalifa’s private property portfolio, which spans a few of London’s costliest neighbourhoods, is basically comprised of “super prime” industrial and residential properties. Flats in one of many portfolio’s luxurious blocks are in the marketplace for about £20m every.
The paperwork spotlight how it’s potential within the UK for a deep-pocketed investor comparable to Khalifa to construct up, largely undetected, a sprawling property portfolio with about 1,000 tenants – because of a fancy construction of shell corporations in offshore havens administered by a few of London’s prime regulation companies.
Khalifa’s UK property pursuits first got here to mild in 2016 when the Guardian’s reporting on the Panama Papers offered a glimpse into how the UAE’s president had secretly acquired dozens of central London properties value greater than £1.2bn.
However, paperwork seen by the Guardian recommend Khalifa’s holdings are value virtually 5 occasions that. In 2005 alone the sheikh spent £1bn on 5 properties, in accordance with courtroom filings. By 2015, the portfolio had swelled in worth to £5.5bn with annual rental revenue of £160m.
Analysis of Land Registry information suggests Khalifa’s industrial and personal property portfolio contains about 170 properties, starting from a secluded mansion close to Richmond Park to a number of high-end London workplace blocks occupied by hedge funds and funding banks.
There isn’t any suggestion of any wrongdoing and proudly owning UK property by way of offshore corporations is completely authorized. But the UK authorities has dedicated to introducing a register of overseas companies proudly owning UK properties to make the market extra clear and fight corruption.
Khalifa didn’t reply to the Guardian’s repeated requests for remark.
The sheikh’s properties are actually on the coronary heart of a excessive courtroom dispute that has thrown his UK pursuits into sharp reduction. Earlier this yr, the courtroom heard claims the UAE president had put in tanks full of Evian ingesting water at his 18th-century mansion close to Windsor. But particulars of his way of life have been upstaged by claims that since a stroke in 2014, Khalifa, who was re-elected as UAE president in 2019, has been “mentally incapacitated” – claims his attorneys have denied.
Lawyers for his former property managers, Lancer, declare the authorized case, regarding the approval of sure funds, has been introduced as Khalifa’s relations compete for management of his belongings. Lancer’s attorneys cited a doc they declare reveals management of his belongings was secretly handed over to a particular committee in 2015.
The doc, first reported by the investigative web site the Sarawak Report and seen by the Guardian, seems to put in Khalifa’s half-brother Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan because the committee’s chairman, suggesting a few of London’s prime actual property is now within the palms of the proprietor of Manchester City soccer membership. Lawyers appearing for Khalifa have denied he has “surrendered control of his assets”.
The notarised doc purports to be signed by Khalifa however the signature seems to belong to his brother Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, de facto chief of the UAE and probably the most highly effective figures within the Middle East.
Since the late Nineties, Khalifa’s private property pursuits have been managed from a seven-storey townhouse overlooking the Dorchester Hotel in London’s Mayfair district. The constructing, in accordance with an individual accustomed to the sheikh’s London operations, is “deliberately slightly shabby looking” however is in actual fact the “inner sanctum”, housing a secretive Liechtensteinian firm, Holbein Anstalt, which manages the royal household’s personal affairs.
The firm started buying property within the UK within the Nineteen Seventies on behalf of Khalifa and his father, UAE’s first president, in addition to catering to the household’s way of life, three sources stated. According to a former worker, this included arranging Harrods shipments to Abu Dhabi. “They’d have the whole private plane full of whatever they wanted,” they stated.
In the Nineties, Khalifa, then UAE’s crown prince, started constructing a separate industrial property portfolio, beginning with workplace blocks in east London and Reading. Advised by Lancer, Khalifa made a sequence of enormous acquisitions, together with £450m of property from the oil firm BP’s pension fund between 1997 and 2001.
The acquisitions included the jewel in Khalifa’s property crown: Berkeley Square in Mayfair, and the freehold of 95 buildings surrounding it. That deal in impact made Khalifa the proprietor of a complete avenue, Bruton Place, and added to his portfolio a sequence of eye-catching addresses throughout Mayfair, such because the world’s oldest Bentley dealership and Annabel’s nightclub.
Subsequent offers concerned different prime areas, such because the places of work of the worldwide commodities firm Glencore and the Time Life constructing on New Bond Street, now dwelling to the Hermès luxurious items retailer. Khalifa additionally purchased high-end residential websites in Knightsbridge, Westminster and Kensington.
By 2015, his property empire had come to rival London’s so-called “great estates”, the massive areas of the capital owned for hundreds of years by aristocratic households. That yr, Khalifa’s holdings have been “only just behind the crown estate in value of its London assets and ahead of the collective value of the Grosvenor Estates’ London properties”, in accordance with one doc.
Company filings present Khalifa’s property generated extra in rental revenue in 2015 than the Grosvenor, Cadogan or De Walden estates.
Despite the dimensions of the portfolio, for many years the proprietor’s identification was a intently guarded secret. Business was carried out secretively through a constellation of British Virgin Islands corporations, dealt with by a small military of discreet intermediaries together with attorneys from elite UK companies comparable to Eversheds and Fox Williams.
The advisers and attorneys have been cautious by no means to call the UAE president, merely referring to him as “The Client”.
A spokesman for Lancer stated all the properties have been “legitimately purchased”. Eversheds stated it acted “strictly in accordance” with its authorized and regulatory obligations always, whereas Fox Williams stated it “upholds the highest professional standards expected of us by our regulator and by our clients”.
Abu Dhabi cash has continued to flood into “super prime” London property lately because of a weakened pound. But Covid-19 has upended the high-end market. The impact of the coronavirus is beginning to present round Khalifa’s property, now managed by a agency owned by the Abu Dhabi-based funding fund ADFG.
A Pizza Express restaurant on Bruton Place has shut and is unlikely to return. Around the nook, William & Son, a luxurious emporium the place for many years the whole lot from shotguns to silverware could possibly be purchased, has fallen into administration.
But Maria, 42, a Big Issue vendor residing in Berkeley Square, says there are nonetheless loads of rich enterprise folks round, whose consideration she tries to catch. Along with a number of different tough sleepers, she sleeps on strips of cardboard within the sq.’s backyard. Living and dealing in a neighbourhood the place you should purchase a wagyu beef steak for the worth of a short-haul flight, Maria says she is usually hungry and more and more chilly.
She has little curiosity in who owns the sq.. Pointing to a pair of worn-out flip-flops, she says: “I need shoes.”