No extradition from London. Russian oligarchs settle in British capital
The forthcoming May holidays are always accompanied by mass migration of people from cities to country homes. Russians like to celebrate the International Worker’s Day as far from their workplaces as possible. Some of them observe the festivities from London and its suburbs.
The Ministry of Finance is agonizing about the attraction of capitals to Russia, while owners of these capitals are eager to siphon their money off from the home country. Not too many destinations are available to them nowadays. Sunny offshore territories are getting increasingly transparent, while the USA freezes suspicions assets on a regular basis. Only the London fog still conceals shady wealth from prying eyes.
Diplomatic mission impossible
Oleg Deripaska was among the first to duly appreciate the protective capability of the London ivy. In 2003, the notorious billionaire purchased a snow-white six-storey palace in prestigious Belgravia neighborhood for £30 million. The location is pretty convenient – 20 minutes by car to the London High Court of Justice where Deripaska is a frequent guest and 6 minutes to Buckingham Palace. Deripaska prefers to live close to the power – even if it is nominal. However, this does not always help. In Washington, Deripaska used to live next door to Ivanka Trump and Barack Obama – but this could not save him from the seizure of another snow-white mansion. Using his diplomatic passport, the Head of Rusal managed to come to terms with the US authorities. There are plenty of embassies in Belgravia – so, the oligarch always keeps the magic passport with him.
Alfa Bank shareholder German Khan acquired a mansion on Eaton Square for £13.5 million in 2006. A year later, he became a defendant in a civil litigation. His wife Angelika launched large-scale renovations in the mansion using mostly gold and brocade as finishes – but then the former flight attendant refused to pay a famous designer his fee. As a result, Khan had to answer for his spouse in court. In the meantime, he bought a second mansion for her – Angelika often visits London on weekends.
Leonard Blavatnik also lives not far from embassies. He is a US citizen – but the American authorities still cannot believe that a fugitive Russian oligarch and ex-Senator suspected of embezzlements of billions of dollars is their compatriot. Therefore, in 2004 Blavatnik has settled in London and purchased a home at 15 Kensington Palace Gardens for £41 million. The Russian Embassy is only two buildings apart from his residence.
Because of the large number of Russian oligarchs residing in Belgravia, the neighborhood was nicknamed Red Square – while Surrey county became a local Rublevskoe highway. In 2004, billionaire Alisher Usmanov bought there Sutton Place estate built in the 16th century. Its current value is estimated at £50 million. Its former owners, including petrol-industrialist Jean Paul Getty, had tried to save money on the building maintenance – but this is not the case for Usmanov. Based on his ninth position in the most recent Forbes rating, the mansion brings the oligarch good fortune.
Alfa Group shareholder Petr Aven also likes antique luxury. In 2004, he purchased monumental Ingliston House and 3.5 ha of land surrounding it. Aven uses the estate currently estimated at £30 million as a storage place. All paintings acquired by the banker are kept there – Aven has a dream to establish a museum similar to the Tretyakov Gallery. Tretyakov was a merchant, while Aven is eager to become a nobleman. After all, the Ingliston House design was developed by architects working with Prince Charles.
Not all properties in Surrey are so expensive. In 2007, famous banker Aleksander Lebedev, co-owner of Novaya Gazeta newspaper, has purchased in the name of his son Stud House manor in Hampton Court, one of the main tourist attractions of London, for £16 million. Two years later, he asked Forbes to remove him from the billionaire's list. However, the journalists found out that the current value of Stud House is £20 million and declined his request.
Ten years ago, Timur Artem’ev, co-owner of Euroset, acquired neogothic Aldworth House. The former residence of poet Alfred Tennyson features six rooms, seven bedrooms, and, perhaps, a couple of ghosts. The castle is estimated at £20 million.
The Bourgeois Gentlemen
Yevgeny Chichvarkin, a partner of Artem’ev, also lives in Surrey. The value of his Barbins Grange estate is estimated at £15 million. Following a new Russian tradition to renovate historical monuments beyond recognition, he established a children’s playground and a swimming pool in the manor. The previous owner of Barbins Grange, TV host Anthea Turner, had also tried to ‘improve’ the property with a helicopter pad and tennis court. However, the local authorities forced her to demolish these ‘improvements’. Now Chichvarkin also has to get rid of all innovations disturbing the old English landscape.
Andrei Borodin, ex-President of Bank of Moscow, demonstrates a much larger scope. A few hectares in Surrey are not enough for him; therefore, the banker purchased 80 ha of land in Berkshire county. Park Place manor was built there three centuries ago. Its former owner Michael Spink has paid £42 million for the property in 2007. The current value of Park Place is £150 million. In 2011, Borodin bought it for £140 million – but the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow has ruled that the banker could not earn such a sum legally and seized the manor.
Andrei Mel’nichenko, the primary beneficiary of EuroChem, also likes vast expanses. He purchased Harewood Estate over 14 ha in size in the same county of Berkshire. The property features 20 bedrooms and the same amount of rooms; its cost is estimated at £30 million. Chichvarkin and Artem’ev may only be envious of such luxury.
Mikhail Fridman is another ‘new aristocrat’. Three years ago, he acquired Athlone House for £65 million. The largest Victorian mansion in Hampstead Heath used to be the residence of many prominent British businessmen. Fridman promised to spend £80 million on ‘reconstruction' of the historic property built in the 19th century.
Buying entire London
Not all billionaires like solitude and vast secluded estates. Some oligarchs highly appreciate a good company. For instance, businessman Vladislav Doronin purchased an apartment in elite One Hyde Park to have good time with Naomi Campbell. He became the sole proprietor of the property, which has ultimately broken their relationship. Now Doronin has to accommodate to the company of Viktor Kharitonin, co-owner of Pharmstandard, and Lukoil shareholder Leonid Fedun having apartments in the same residential complex. If the billionaires are lucky, they may chat with celebrity neighbor Kylie Minogue.
Norebo owner Vitaly Orlov acquired an entire floor in St. George Wharf Tower worth £15 million. PhosAgro shareholder Andrei Gur’ev owns an apartment worth £60 million in the same condominium. Gur’ev is going to establish a chapel in his penthouse. Perhaps, he believes that prayers from the top of a skyscraper would be more effective?
Shopping is the favorite hobby of many Russian oligarchs living in the UK. For instance, Andrei Gur’ev purchased for £150 million Witanhurst mansion, which is only slightly less in size than Buckingham Palace.
After living in Surrey for four years, Alisher Usmanov bought snow-white Beechwood House on Hampstead Lane from Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Its current value is estimated at £60 million.
Longtime London dweller Roman Abramovich purchases everything he can, including a mansion on Kensington Palace Gardens just across the residence of Blavatnik (£170 million) and an apartment in a high-rise near Stamford Bridge (£30 million) enabling Abramovich to view the home stadium of Chelsea F.C. from his window. In addition, the billionaire gained Israeli citizenship – just to be on the safe side.
The land of promise would welcome Leonid Fedun as well – but he sticks to London. Fedun has even purchased The Ampersand Hotel for his son for £100 million. In 2006, Vladimir Chernukhin, ex-Chairman of Vnesheconombank has also bought a mansion in the center of London and successfully converted it into a hotel.
Andrei Goncharenko, a former top manager of Gazprom, is wanted in several countries and uses the UK as an asylum. Since 2012, he has been purchasing real estate in London, including a mansion on St. James street (£105 million), Hanover Lodge (£130 million), and a ‘humble’ home in Belgravia (£25 million).
Boris Mints is also unwilling to relocate from London to Tel Aviv. After selling his Russian assets, Mints fled the country together with his family. Being a Maltese citizen, he could fly on the sunny island – but Mints prefers to live in the UK where he has a hotel business and ten mansions, including Tower of Lethendy in Scotland. The recent rumors about his possible extradition cannot scare the oligarch: Boris Mints has the greatest faith in conservative traditions of Great Britain – London never deports oligarchs.