Commercial property

Oligarch’s son sanctioned and a £160m London property empire | Commercial property

The son of a Russian billionaire facing sanctions for supporting the dictator who rules Belarus has been linked to a £160million portfolio of properties in London.

Said Gutseriev, a 34-year-old businessman of British and Russian nationality, appears to have spent years amassing a collection of at least seven properties in central London.

They range from large office buildings in the city to a pair of £17million townhouses in South Kensington joined together to form a residence.

Said’s father, Mikhail Gutseriev, was blacklisted last year, by the EU in June and the UK in August, months after the violent crackdown on protests that threatened to end 26 years of autocratic regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. The British government described Gutseriev as “a longtime associate” of the president, who had used his business interests to support Lukashenko’s government.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Mikhail Gutseriev light candles in a newly built church in the town of Shershuni near Minsk, Belarus. Photography: Andrei Stasevich/Belta Pool/EPA

The collection of assets emerged from the findings of a joint investigation by the Guardian and the Belarusian Investigative Centre, which is part of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

All of the properties reviewed were purchased before Mikhail was sanctioned. Six were acquired between 2004 and 2012, when Said was at school or university, or just starting his career at FTSE 100 commodities trader Glencore. Said dated £14,500 per term at the Harrow School before studying at Oxford.

Leaked documents suggest Said had a head start thanks to his family’s wealth. One of the properties ultimately appears to belong to a trust set up by his father in 2007. Said was listed as a beneficiary of the trust in official documents from 2008 and 2009 seen by the Guardian. The documents also name him as the beneficiary of a second trust, created in 2004 by his grandmother, Marem Gutserieva. Saïd controls a stake in Russneft, the Russian oil company which was partly owned by his father until the latter transferred his stake to his brother in August 2021.

A spokesman for Said Gutseriev said he had no financial or business ties to his father and always acted in accordance with applicable law, including penalties. The spokesperson did not dispute Said’s ownership of any of the properties.

Reports of assets linked to him in the UK raise questions about whether sanctions should apply to family members.

85 Fleet Street in the City of London.
85 Fleet Street in the City of London. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Tom Keatinge, director of the center for financial crime and security studies at the Rusi think tank, said: “One of the challenges that western countries will now face is to identify the true extent of assets that should be frozen under sanctions regimes It is reasonable to look closely at assets held by family members – not just asset purchases in recent years, but transfers in the past . »

The properties which appear to be linked to Said were discovered during an analysis by Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog, using data from the Land Registry, UK Companies House and offshore leaks obtained by the Consortium International of Investigative Journalists. Most were purchased using companies incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven that allows company owners to remain hidden.

They include:

  • A £19 million office building called Gloucester Building on Avonmore Road.

  • Austin Friars House, London, a £41 million office building in the center of the City of London.

  • 82-85 Fleet Street, London, a £70 million office building in the City of London.

  • 64-65 Vincent Square, London, an £8.7 million office building near Victoria Station.

  • A pair of £17million Grade II listed stucco fronted townhouses remodeled to create a unique residence on Queen’s Gate Place just south of Hyde Park.

  • A slick £2.5million home in Petersham Mews, Kensington.

  • A £5.7million townhouse on Green Street in Mayfair.

The Queen’s Gate Place house, a listed building near the London Museum of Natural History, was used by Said as his main residence in London. It underwent extensive renovations in 2013, with planning documents showing ornate, gold-painted walls, elaborately carved cornices, and classically painted murals and chandeliers.

Queen's Gate Square SW7
Queen’s Gate Place in South Kensington. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Another property, Lilly House at 13 Hanover Square in London, sold for £69million in November last year.

Saïd’s net worth is estimated at $1.3bn (£1bn) by Forbes, an assessment which the magazine said was based on stakes in oil, coal, retail and financial companies, including some had previously belonged to his father.

Said is the largest shareholder in SFI, a Russian company formerly called Safmar Financial Investments in which Mikhail was previously a “majority shareholder”, according to its annual reports. Mikhail served alongside his son on the SFI board until November 2021. SFI owns a stake in Russneft and online retailer M.Video, a business originally bought by the father.

In the past year, Said has reportedly severed some financial ties with companies previously linked to his father and with Russia and Belarus. He would have resigned in August 2021 from the head of ForteInvest, an oil refining company of which he had been appointed managing director in 2014 at the age of 26. A company press release said Forteinvest was owned by his father’s Safmar Group as recently as late 2020. In August 2021, he sold his stake in Belarus-based cryptocurrency exchange Currency.com, according to the local media.

Ben Cowdock, Head of Investigations for Transparency International UK, said: “Following the money is key to delivering financial sanctions. Those targeted by the sanctions may have shared their wealth with family, friends and associates. »

When Said married in 2016, Sting was among the performers at the opulent celebrations, which took place in London and Moscow.
When Said married in 2016, Sting was among the performers at the opulent celebrations, which took place in London and Moscow. Photography: www.instagram.com/_wedding_world/

Said studied archeology and anthropology at St Peter’s College, Oxford, and in 2019 the university established a Gutseriev scholarship after donating £2.6million. When he married in 2016, Sting, Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias performed at the lavish celebrations in London and Moscow.

Gutseriev’s spokesman said: “Mr. Said Gutseriev has no financial or business ties with Mr. Mikhail Gutseriev and cannot be described as his father’s business partner. To suggest otherwise is factually incorrect. Mr. Said Gutseriev is a British national and resident, he fully understands the scope and application of the sanctions against his father and always acts in accordance with applicable law.

“Any suggestion that he holds funds or assets for, or makes funds or assets available to his father, is factually incorrect. He has no financial or business ties to any sanctioned persons or entities and is acting in full compliance with UK sanctions. To suggest otherwise is factually incorrect.

“Mr. Said Gutseriev is not a political figure and has no personal or financial ties with the Russian or Belarusian governments.

“He calls for a peaceful resolution to the fighting in Ukraine and condemns the alleged human rights violations. Any case of human rights violation must be judged in accordance with international law and anyone found guilty must be punished to the full force of the law.

Mikhail Gutseriev did not respond to requests for comment.