he British 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.
An exclusive analysis compiled for Homes & Property has revealed that there are 1,895 Russian-owned properties in London alone, more than three times the official figure of 795.
Existing Russian property records have long been considered a low estimate, as they only include those that appear in searches of the Land Registry or Companies House. New data from HARNESS Data Intelligence expands the search to include properties owned by companies registered overseas.
Overall, the search found a whopping 17,055 records of Russian-owned assets in the UK, with most of the assets 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 any connection to Putin’s regime. However, the extent of Russian investment in the UK has come under greater scrutiny since the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions against Kremlin-linked oligarchs.
The data also reveals hotspots for Russian-owned properties in the capital, such as Westminster, which has 218 properties. The borough is home to Belgravia’s Eaton’s Square, which has earned it the nickname “Red Square” due to its popularity with Russian billionaires.
Perhaps surprisingly, the London area with the second highest number of Russian-owned properties is Lambeth in South London with 112, followed closely by the North London areas of Brent (81) and Camden. (80). Other regions with high records include Kensington and Chelsea (74), Southwark (74) and Croydon (75).
Edwin Groenendaal, CEO of HARNESS Data Intelligence, said: “We are not saying that any of these properties are illegal, but the bottom line is that 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 17,000 UK assets held by Russians are linked to sanctioned billionaires is a difficult task, in part because many are registered with anonymous offshore companies with complex ownership structures.
Some have been discovered, such as the £82m Beechwood House in Highgate, which the government says 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 with the sanctions.
UK-based billionaire Mikhail Fridman has been sanctioned by the EU and the UK 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, which he paid £65million for in 2016 and later upgraded to include a wine cellar, cinema, swimming pool, yoga room and a cigar room.
Recent research by Transparency International found that since 2016, £1.5 billion worth of goods have been bought by Russians accused of corruption or with links to the Kremlin. Nearly £430m is in the City of Westminster, while £283m is in Kensington and Chelsea and £165m is in Camden.
In his research, HARNESS linked UK addresses to property records and then located companies in leaked data on offshore companies published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The research also takes into account parent companies, both on the UK side and on the offshore side, but to avoid ‘thin connections’, only two degrees of separation in the companies have been included.
Roarie Scarisbrick, a partner at leading property consultancy Property Vision, said the higher property records were unsurprising as Russians have been buying property in the capital for years.
Russian migration to the UK peaked in the mid-2000s, he said, adding: “Around 2012 it started to calm down and in recent years the Russian buyers we’ve 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 to Hampstead or Highgate to get a home of the scale a family would need. They also traveled to suburban estates, such as Wentworth in Surrey.
Scarisbrick said while it was common for buyers to buy properties through offshore companies, he believed it had become less common since the government’s crackdown on tax avoidance in 2015.