All aboard: Notes from London's Kleptocracy tour bus

Knightsbridge: a popular choice for the global rich to buy no questions asked. Image: Getty.

Under a leaden sky, our tour bus snakes through Knightsbridge, passing Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and the showrooms of Ferrari and Tom Ford. My camera-wielding companions display a blithe indifference to these international brand names, the signifiers of status, wealth, and glamour.

The bus pulls up on Brompton Road and we trundle off, turning our backs on the Baroque magnificence of The Oratory. As the drizzle seeps through our clothes, we stare intently at the terracotta tiling of the disused Brompton Road tube station before wandering down Cottage Place to take a look at the frankly vulgar exterior of a Kensington mansion.

We are not here to swap notes on architectural styles: our aim is to learn about the tycoons whose aversion to publicity is matched only by their enthusiasm for eye-catching baubles.

This is one of many stops on an itinerary put together by Roman Borisovich, a former insurance executive and the driving force behind the Committee for Legislation Against Money Laundering in Properties by Kleptocrats. His so-called “Kleptocracy Tours” aim to highlight the properties snapped up by billionaires from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and elsewhere, who, Borisovich maintains, exploit London’s central role in the world of offshore finance.


The expensive pile on Cottage Place and its neighbouring tube station is owned by Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian businessman and former adviser to Vladimir Putin. Firtash isn't home when we call: he is in Austria fighting extradition to the United States on bribery charges.

Our guide for this part of the tour, the author and investigative journalist Oliver Bullough, point out that Firtash has not been convicted of any crime.  “Here we have a situation whereby the UK government says it is in its interests to see a democratic, prosperous, Western-aligned Ukraine – and yet here we have the British government selling a piece of its capital to a man closely aligned to the previous Ukrainian administration and an ally of Vladimir Putin.”

The next stretch of the tour takes us to Acacia Road in leafy St John’s Wood. According to a Sunday Times report, based on Land Registry documents, a £23m house in the prosperous suburb is the property of Andrey Yakunin – son of Vladimir Yakunin, the former boss of the Russian railways and an old friend of Putin. The newspaper report linked the eight-bedroom property to Yakunin Junior via a British Virgin Islands-based company Terphos Financial.

The final stage on our itinerary is Baker Street. If you fancy the idea of paying an eye watering rent for a flat surrounded by tourist tat and besieged by backpackers in search of the Beatles Store and Sherlock Holmes’s fictional address, this is the place for you. It will no doubt warm your cockles to know that your hard-earned money is helping to sustain the lifestyle of the beneficial owners, the Kazakh royal family. 

Our tour takes place on the eve of the summit on corruption hosted by prime minister David Cameron. Roman Borisovich tells us he is optimistic that positive change is in the air. He says he wants the British governed to impose tougher laws on the “enablers”, the legions of lawyers and estate agents who profit from their paymasters dubious deals.

He says: “We need to see cases where professionals are brought to justice and punished for their assistance in laundering millions of pounds.”

But it’s a safe bet that he will be adding further addresses to his tour for some time yet.

 
 
 
 

What is to be done? Some modest suggestions on solving the NIMBY problem

Lovely, lovely houses. Image: Getty.

The thing about NIMBYism, right, is that there’s no downside to it. If you already own a decent size house, then the fact a city isn’t building enough homes to go round is probably no skin off your nose. Quite the opposite, in fact: you’ll actively benefit from higher house prices.

So it’s little wonder that campaigning against property development is a popular leisure activity among those looking forward to a long retirement (don’t Google it, it’ll only depress you). It’s sociable, it’s profitable, it only takes a few hours a week, and, best of all, it makes you feel righteous, like you’re doing something good. In those circumstances, who wouldn’t be a NIMBY?

To fight the scourge of NIMBYism, then, what we need to do is to rebalance the risks and rewards that its participants face. By increasing the costs of opposing new housebuilding, we can make sure that people only do it when said development is genuinely a horror worth fighting – rather than, say, something less than perfect that pops up a Tuesday afternoon when they don’t have much else on.

Here are some reasonable and sensible ideas for policies to make that happen.

A NIMBY licence, priced at, say, £150 a month. Anyone found practicing NIMBYism without a licence faces a fine of £5,000. Excellent revenue raiser for the Treasury.

Prison sentences for NIMBYs. Not all of them, obviously – we’re not barbarians – but if the planning process concludes that a development will be good for the community, then those who tried to prevent it should be seen as anti-social elements and treated accordingly.

A NIMBY lottery. All homeowners wishing to oppose a new development must enter their details into an official government lottery scheme. If their number comes up, then their house gets CPOed and redeveloped as flats. Turns NIMBYism into a form of Russian roulette, but with compulsory purchase orders instead of bullets.

This one is actually a huge range of different policies depending on what you make the odds. At one end of the scale, losing your house is pretty unlikely: you’d think twice, but you’re probably fine. At the other, basically everyone who opposes a scheme will lose their entire worldly wealth the moment it gets planning approval, so you’d have to be very, very sure it was bad before you even thought about sticking your head above the parapet. So the question is: do you feel lucky?


NIMBY shaming. There are tribal cultures where, when a member does something terrible, they never see them again. Never talk to them, never look at them, never acknowledge them in any way. To the tribe, this person is dead.

I’m just saying, it’s an option.

A NIMBY-specific bedroom tax. Oppose new housing development to your heart’s content, but be prepared to pay for any space you don’t need. I can’t think of any jokes here, now I’ve written it down I think this one’s genuinely quite sensible.

Capital punishment for NIMBYs. This one’s a bit on the extreme side, so to keep things reasonable it would only apply to those NIMBYs who believe in capital punishment for other sorts of crime. Fair’s far.

Pushing snails through their letter boxes. This probably won’t stop them, but it’d make me feel better. The snails, not so much.

Reformed property taxes, which tax increases in house prices, so discourage homeowners from treating them as effectively free money.

Sorry, I’m just being silly now, aren’t I?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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