There was no sign then of what was to come: the arrival in Britain of a wave of middle-class, affluent Russians. Although there are no official figures for the size of the London-based Russian and former-Soviet community, it is widely accepted that by it numbered well in excess of , This was large enough to spawn four Russian-language newspapers, the glossy magazine New Style , a plethora of Russian networking clubs and internet sites, and a host of Russian social events.
Although by then the Russian community was diverse, most of its members were ordinary professionals who had chosen to live, work, and settle in London. Many had British husbands or wives. Some worked for international organizations or Russian companies based in London while others had set up their own businesses. Some found jobs as estate agents, in the City, and in retail to target or cater for Russian clients.
They mostly came to Britain to escape the crime, political uncertainty, and economic turbulence and were a very select middle-class group compared with the wider Russian population. Some still commuted back and forth from Moscow, by commercial rather than by private jet. These were transcontinental commuters, a mix of oil executives, bankers, and importers and exporters who had homes and families in London but who worked in Moscow. For them it was a weekly ritual: Friday and Sunday nights on a four-hour flight, weekends in London, and the week in their Moscow office.
Some of the Russian ultra-rich were, through fear of arrest, driven out of Russia and took up residence in London. Others became international super-nomads, living partly in London, partly in Russia, while travelling the globe in their private jets and luxury yachts. Many kept a discreet foot in both camps.
During the course of the s these four men built huge fortunes at electric speed by exploiting the flawed post-Soviet scramble to build a Western-style market economy. Though it was Russia itself that was the source of their personal wealth, it was London that provided the backdrop to the next phase in their meteoric climb up the global rich lists.
For Abramovich, London has helped to satisfy his apparently insatiable appetite for conspicuous consumption. For Deripaska, banned from entering the United States, the capital has been a crucial base for building his diverse and colossal global business empire. Before his incarceration, Khodorkovsky used London to woo the British political and business establishment in his international campaign to transform his tarnished global reputation.
For Berezovsky, who has been fighting extradition since , London has provided a refuge from Russian prosecutors who have accused him of alleged tax evasion and fraud, charges that he has strenuously denied. In contrast to the corrupt, politicized judiciary in Russia, London has also offered legal sanctuary and a fair due process of law.
While indicted Russian businessmen have been arrested and detained in Spain, France, Italy, and the United States, Britain has refused to accept any of the dozens of extradition attempts by the Russian authorities, souring diplomatic relations in the process. London has long attracted the extravagantly rich, but the post-millennium wave of foreign wealth was unprecedented. In the decade up to , trillions of pounds of foreign capital settled in the UK.
For those who make money out of money, it was a golden decade for tax lawyers, accountants, and bankers. By , before the devastating impact of the global economic meltdown of the following year, London had displaced New York as the financial capital of the world. It did so by providing an unrivalled tax avoidance industry and a much lighter regulatory touch.
The United States also introduced much tighter visa restrictions for foreign businessmen, which did not compare favourably with the more open UK border controls.
For moneyed Russians London also provides logistical advantages: the flight from Moscow is just four hours, while south-east England enjoys a ring of airports with facilities for private jets. A businessman can get on a plane from Moscow and be in central London in five hours, from Bombay in seven, even from Beijing in nine. This is one of the reasons why over the past twenty-five years London has turned itself into an international marketplace while New York has remained essentially a domestic financial capital.
However, tax remains the primary factor. Most countries have required their residents - including wealthy foreigners - to pay domestic taxes on their worldwide income and capital gains. Furthermore, by purchasing property through offshore trusts, foreign buyers could avoid both capital gains tax when they sell and most of the stamp duty usually paid at the initial purchase. For a Russian billionaire living in London, his earnings from his homeland have been tax-free in the UK.
Little of this unprecedented accumulation of wealth has been invested in Russia in business or charity.
Rather, most of the money has been secreted abroad, with billions of dollars hidden in a labyrinth of offshore bank accounts in an array of tax havens, from Switzerland and Jersey to the British Virgin Islands and Gibraltar. Much has ended up being deposited in and managed by British banks. Stashed away, it has been almost impossible to trace.
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Despite attempts by Russian and British law enforcement agencies, little of it has been recovered and requisitioned back to Russia. Russia is where the money originated, but it has not been a comfortable place to spend it - too many people pointing fingers in Moscow restaurants, too much scrutiny by the tax police, and the constant fear of assassination. The Russian rich cannot go anywhere without bodyguards and bullet- and bomb-proof cars.
Even wearing bespoke suits attracts attention. But in the UK or Europe they have been able to go mostly unrecognized and can relax, spending their gains without fear of censure or of being called to account. After buying their multi-million pound town houses and country estates, they have indulged their sybaritic lifestyles, cruising in St Barts, skiing in Gstaad, and shopping in Knightsbridge.
For their wives it has been heaven. It has all the boutiques and the culture. Russians can hire Rolls-Royces and private jets more easily here. On arrival in London the first port of call for the affluent, socially aspiring Russian was to the estate agent, notably Savills, Knight Frank, or Aylesford.
Deals were cut at high speed: no mortgages, just cash. But Russians have been extremely selective in location, not merely restricting themselves to the golden postcodes - SW1, SW3, W1, and W8 - but only to certain streets and squares within them. Owning a British country property is also prestigious. The next decision for the oligarch seeking to emulate the British aristocracy was which top boarding school to send their offspring to, for a British education is another motivating factor for moving to the UK.
Public schools generally offer high academic standards and a secure, friendly environment. In Moscow, by contrast, kidnapping is a constant and real fear. School numbers soared from and some Russian parents started to seek schools where there were no other Russians. He promised to pay for anything - a new gym, classrooms, a swimming pool. At another top school a parent asked permission to land his helicopter on the cricket field when visiting his child.
While most Russian children eventually return home, an English education is regarded as a commercial benefit.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue? Upload Sign In Join. Save For Later. Create a List. Summary The amazing true story of how London became home to the Russian super-rich — told for the first time ever. Read on the Scribd mobile app Download the free Scribd mobile app to read anytime, anywhere.
Book Preview Londongrad - Mark Hollingsworth. The story of that brief encounter says much about our new Russian neighbours: the temptations but also the dangers of supping too closely with them.
Londongrad: From Russia with Cash;The Inside Story of the Oligarchs
There is a feeling of a lot of old newspaper cuttings being rehashed in this book and the authors concede this to an extent by the large number of journalists they have to thank in the acknowledgements. But there is, I fancy, another reason why this book turns out to be remarkably heavy going. Russian billionaires are not, by and large, the most glamorous of figures and, apart from being adept moneymaking machines, they also tend to lack a certain hinterland. I can see what it is that attracts the oligarchs to London but there is little in this book that explains what should attract Londoners to them.
However, the killing of Alexander Litvinenko, a former spy, in the capital reinforces the notion that these men come with a lot of baggage that is highly undesirable. A great many of the sources in this book are unattributed, perhaps necessarily. Has wealth brought the Russians, with all the security men they feel the need to employ, much happiness? This book, by and large, suggests not. Buy from Telegraph Books.
Londongrad: from Russia with Cash by Mark Hollingsworth and Stewart Lansley
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Londongrad: From Russia with Cash;The Inside Story of the Oligarchs by Mark Hollingsworth
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