London estate agents caught on camera dealing with 'corrupt' Russian buyer
Channel 4’s latest documentary, ‘From Russia With Cash,’ investigates agents in wealthier districts who are turning a blind eye to apparent money laundering by corrupt foreign buyers. But how is Channel 4 getting this information? The network has sent in two undercover journalists who are posing as fraudulent Russian government officials, “Boris” and his mistress “Nastya” who he is purchasing the property for. Various estate agents from west London show the couple five properties ranging in price from £3-15m. The agents, aware of the couple’s illegitimate gains, continue with the purchase and some even recommend solicitors who can assist the buyer with the disclosure of his identity. They also claim that these kinds of purchases are common, with 80% or more of transactions are international buyers, with 50-60% of those conducted anonymously.
This is evidence of how there is an increasing concern that criminals and foreign officials have been buying upmarket London properties through anonymous offshore companies, with billions of pounds of ill gained money.
It is also evidence of the number of agents who are by passing laws to make commissions between £65,000 to £315,000. A decade ago, the government brought in laws that required estate agents to submit a suspicious activity report to the National crime Agent, if they believed the funds used to purchase any property was obtained illegitimately.
The documentary is one of many reports exposing the state of London’s foreign property investments. Transparency International (TI) has reported that 36,000 properties in London have been brought through hidden companies, with majority being kept for legitimate reasons, there are a vast amount which have been brought anonymously to hide stolen money. They also stated that 75% of properties were owned by individuals under criminal investigation for corruption, were being held through offshore companies.
So what did the documentary set out to prove and did it achieve this? In many ways, the documentary set out to expose the wrong doings of estate agents who knowingly accept these deals and to warn its audience. But in turn it pushes us to ask how? How are the agents able to bypass laws in place to protect vendors and the clients? How are government organisations able to ignore the statistics that demonstrate that London’s property market is being funded with illegitimate money? Agents and buyers can ultimately hide their cash, their identity and purchases, but as Channel 4 has proved you cannot hide form the camera.