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.

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.