As world leaders gather in London Thursday for an anti-corruption summit, a group of campaigners has organized an alternative tour of the British capital, highlighting some of the biggest and most expensive properties owned by the world’s billionaires, who the campaigners say exploit Britain’s pivotal role in the murky system of offshore finance.
Lawmakers have allowed a "laundromat" system of recycled dirty money to take root in the capital, argues anti-corruption campaigner Roman Borisovich who came up with idea of the self-styled "Kleptocracy Tours".
The coach tour sets off from beside the River Thames, in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament.
“The purpose of the tours is to highlight the avalanche of dirty money that is coming to our shores,” Borisovich tells the dozen journalists and tourists on board.
First stop is Knightsbridge, home to the Harrods department store and a favorite neighborhood of Russian and Middle Eastern billionaires.
The prime address is One Hyde Park, where each apartment sells for upwards of $100 million. For that, the residents get a spectacular view across the park, a secure "panic room" in case of attack, and 24-hour room service from the neighboring Mandarin Oriental hotel. One of the flats is owned by Leonid Fedun, a chief executive of Russian oil giant Lukoil.
“Fedun may be a titan of Russian industry, but his business practices are far from exemplary,” says the next speaker Andrew Foxall of policy analyst group the Henry Jackson Society. “Lukoil has been involved in high profile money laundering, in tax evasion scandals.”
Panama Papers add new stops
Campaigners say the huge leak of data from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca has helped to lift the veil of secrecy offered by tax havens, and the information has allowed them to add new stops on the ‘Kleptocracy Tour’.
“The secrecy of corporate establishments in these tax havens, it is the origin of criminal proceeds coming into our country,” says organizer Roman Borisovich.
Next stop is a former London Underground station in Kensington. It was purchased from the British Ministry of Defense for $76.5 million by Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash. He was an ally of deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, and was charged with bribery in 2014 by the FBI. An extradition request from the United States is still being heard in an Austrian court.
Oliver Bullough, author of The Last Man in Russia and the next speaker on the tour, says the sale exposes British hypocrisy.
“We have a situation whereby the UK says that it is in its interests to see a democratic, prosperous, Western-aligned Ukraine, and yet here we have the British government selling a chunk of our capital to one of the men who was most closely aligned to the previous regime and a close ally of Vladimir Putin.”
Organizers say that if British Prime Minister David Cameron waters down commitments to end corruption, his London home at number 10 Downing Street will become the next stop on the tour.