Photo: Edgar Su/Reuters
Billionaires and business people including James Dyson and Tina Green own UK property through overseas companies, according to a new program aimed at improving transparency.
The tycoons on a list revealed by a Guardian investigation last week include racing driver Lewis Hamilton, the Chinese government, a string of Gulf royals and at least 20 donors to the Tory party.
The declarations are made on the UK government’s new register for overseas entities. Holding property through offshore companies is legal. All persons named as beneficial owners on the register have fulfilled their legal obligations to declare the holdings.
But the program shows how billions of pounds of London property is mostly owned through jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and the Channel Islands. The Guardian believes that reporting on the business interests and property ownership structures of the wealthy and influential is in the public interest.
Dyson is named on the register as the beneficial owner of Weybourne Holdings Pte, a Singapore-based multinational that includes appliance company Dyson, the family office set up to manage his personal wealth, and a range of UK commercial properties. Our analysis suggests Weybourne has 31 UK properties, which Land Registry records show are worth at least £287m.
Dyson moved its home appliance business to the city-state of Singapore in 2019.
The second richest person in Britain, Dyson attracted criticism when he moved his companies, after referring to Brexit as a great opportunity for UK entrepreneurs. He said the decision to move was motivated by access to supply chains and customers in Asia.
Assets owned by Weybourne Holdings include office blocks in the London areas of Mayfair and Camden, a £43m plot of land on the Greenwich peninsula, as well as sites in York and Oxfordshire.
It was majority owned by the UK-based Weybourne Group until 2019, the year Dyson moved to Singapore, when it was transferred to Weybourne Holdings Pte. Some were bought after the company moved overseas, according to Land Registry records.
There is no suggestion that Dyson has achieved any tax advantage by holding the properties through Singapore.
Lawyers for Dyson said there was no tax advantage gained from owning the properties through Weybourne Holdings Pte, adding that some of the properties were occupied by entities within the Dyson group.
Weybourne’s ownership of the properties was a matter of public record and reflected an investment in the UK, they said.
Lady Green, the wife of Philip Green, the retail tycoon who suffered a major fall from grace as his retail empire collapsed, is also on the list of overseas entities.
Her entries on the register are in line with documents from the Pandora Papers offshore leak, which revealed she launched a property-buying spree as the BHS retail empire neared collapse.
In June 2015 she bought a Mayfair flat for £4.95m using an offshore firm through Amberley Limited, which is incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. Green is known as the owner of Amberley, along with BVI-based Hulverstone Investments, which paid £15m for a luxury triplex apartment in Mayfair in March 2016. She also acquired the £10.6m Belgravia mansion, via Mottistone Holdings based in BVI.
Lawyers told Green that she had not been resident or domiciled in the UK for more than 23 years and that the ownership arrangements were legal and legitimate. They also said her property investments were completely separate from Philip Green’s business interests, including BHS.
Camden Market owner Teddy Sagi is named as the owner of 27 companies listed on the register, which are incorporated in the BVIs and Jersey. These companies own multiple properties including real estate in Camden Market.
A spokesperson for Sagi said he welcomed the programme. “As a result of the global nature of his businesses, his assets are managed by a range of companies on the advice of local advisers in each country, in which he invests.”
He said that Sagi’s property interests “included only UK tax entities owning property. All properties are therefore fully taxed in accordance with UK law in a fully transparent manner.”
A new UK government program for overseas entities has been created to improve transparency around the ownership of British property and help the authorities ensure that the correct amount of tax is paid. Holding property through offshore companies is legal. Owners of property through offshore companies may do so for many reasons, from tax benefits to privacy or wanting the stability or simplicity of a particular offshore tax regime. In the words of the government, offshore taxation is “complex”.
But the ministers are of the opinion that transparency in relation to foreign ownership of UK property is an important step in improving the functioning of the tax system. “Although the vast majority of people and businesses pay the correct amount of tax, mistakes are made,” the government said in explaining why it was introducing the programme. The overseas entities register appears to be a major step forward in transparency, with thousands of owners, including those reported by the Guardian, coming forward to declare their properties. All persons named as beneficial owners on the register have fulfilled their legal obligations to declare their holdings. Around a quarter of the companies that have made declarations so far do not yet publicly disclose their ownership, as trusts are only required to provide information on their beneficiaries to the tax authorities.
The Guardian has previously reported on offshore ownership of companies through leaks such as the Paradise papers and the Pandora papers, leading governments including the UK government to impose greater scrutiny on international tax affairs and offshore secrecy from the coast. The Guardian believes that by shedding light on the UK property held by foreign and offshore firms, it improves that process of transparency and allows readers to gain a better understanding of the power structures that affect their daily lives. wealthy, politically connected and influential people.
Overseas entities must also register with Companies House if they do not own property but have done so in the past or intend to do so in the future.
New Chelsea FC owner Todd Boehly has three entries on the register, but none appear to own any UK properties.
A spokesman for the Boehly Eldridge investment group did not return requests for comment.