Ukrainian oligarch’s ownership of US$122 million London penthouse raises transparency questions


Recently leaked documents have revealed the involvement of Rinat Akhmetov, a Ukrainian oligarch who also is known to be a friend of Volodymyr Zelensky and mining magnate with reported connections to Volodymyr Zelensky, in offshore maneuvers to purchase a lavish penthouse in London. Questions have surfaced regarding Akhmetov’s absence from the United Kingdom’s new register designed to disclose property ownership through shell companies.

Records from Cyprus Confidential indicate that in July 2021, Akhmetov, through Gelion Properties Ltd., a British Virgin Islands shell company where he was the beneficial owner, committed to buying a “grand penthouse” in the Belgravia area for £87.5 million (approximately US$122 million).

Detailed engineering plans revealed the amalgamation of two upper-floor apartments in the Chelsea Barracks complex, connected by internal staircases.

The Chelsea Barracks development, funded by the Qatari state property company at an estimated US$1.3 billion, is touted as the UK’s most expensive land sale by a luxury-lifestyle magazine.

Leaked emails between employees of Cypriot financial service providers outlined plans to utilize Gelion to purchase the property and conceal Akhmetov’s identity, a practice previously common among high-profile individuals evading appearance on the UK’s public property owner registry. However, transparency reforms implemented in August 2022 mandated overseas entities acquiring UK properties to register with Companies House and divulge beneficial ownership details, with penalties for non-compliance.

Despite Gelion registering ownership of the property with Companies House by the January 2023 deadline, Akhmetov was not listed on the new Register of Overseas Entities (ROE). Instead, the registered beneficial owner was listed as Olena Lutsenko, a Ukrainian national, whose correspondence address was noted at the Chelsea Barracks. Akhmetov and Lutsenko were also recorded as residents of an apartment on Grosvenor Square in London, as per separate residency data.

However, a representative for Akhmetov refuted claims of his ownership or residency at the Grosvenor Square property and refrained from commenting on Lutsenko’s association with it.

Lutsenko, identified as a UK resident with “significant control” of Deston Management Ltd., a London-based company involved in consultancy activities, was linked to overseeing the penthouse’s decoration for Gelion, according to documents.

Although Akhmetov initially declined to address queries about Gelion’s property acquisition and whether it formed part of a trust structure altering reporting obligations, he later confirmed his investment and subsequent divestment through Gelion in compliance with UK law. He asserted that he was not the beneficial owner and thus should not be listed on public registers.

Despite financial setbacks due to the Ukraine-Russia conflict, Akhmetov’s estimated worth stands at US$5.7 billion. ICIJ’s investigation uncovered Akhmetov’s extensive global business holdings, including interests in 60 offshore companies primarily registered in Cyprus. Akhmetov is neither under sanctions nor facing criminal charges.

Similar to his recent investment, Akhmetov previously merged penthouses at One Hyde Park for £136.4 million in 2011, registered under an offshore trustee firm as of January 2023.

The circumstances leading to Lutsenko’s listing as the beneficial owner of Gelion remain unclear. Speculations suggest a change in ownership not documented by ICIJ or involvement in a trust structure. Trust beneficiaries’ information is not publicly disclosed under the ROE, leading to gaps in ownership transparency.

Lawmakers and experts view these loopholes as a substantial flaw in the register. Despite rejected proposals to address trust-related transparency gaps, the government committed to launching a public consultation by year-end to enhance trust information transparency.

While UK authorities have issued financial penalties to offshore companies for failing to register, transparency advocates stress the challenge of ensuring these fines are paid. Anti-corruption advocates view this as a step toward action but emphasize the need for effective enforcement.


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