No Leicester connection in leaked Panama papers, but Land Registry records hundreds of city properties owned off-shore
More than 300 properties in Leicester have been purchased in overseas tax havens, often by a company or an asset manager on behalf of a company. The deals, mainly in Hong Kong, the British Virgin Islands or the Channel Islands, make it difficult or impossible to identify the true owner.
None of what follows implies any illegality or dubious behaviour. It is entirely proper that bona fide companies investing in Leicester property want their purchases to be tax-efficient and hard to trace.
But it is interesting to look at some of the city properties that were purchased off-shore, even if it is never clear who the beneficial owner is.
King Power stadium was bought in the British Virgin Islands for £17m in 2013 by a company registered in Hong Kong. Both territories are recognised as international tax havens.
The Haymarket centre also exchanged hands in 2013, bought for £40m by a company registered in Jersey.
There’s land at 39 Raw Dykes Road which was sold for £32m in 2014 in a deal involving the finance company BNP Paribas Securities in Jersey.
A lot of purpose-built student accommodation is owned overseas. Liberty Park on Eastern Boulevard is owned by Liberty Park (Leicester) Ltd, which sounds local enough. Except the £27m purchase back in 2004 took place in the British Virgin Islands.
Grosvenor House on Newarke Street is student accommodation run by Prodigy Living, owned by US-based company Greystar. It was purchased along with other properties for £79m in 2013 in Luxembourg through an asset management company.
The £7m Wellington House on Albion Street is owned by company in Bermuda.
Fosse Court retirement home on Fosse Road North was bought in a deal worth £6m back in 2004 and registered in Guernsey.
Various properties on 133-147 Scudamore Road, Braunstone Industrial Estate were bought in Jersey in 2014 by a finance company which paid £9m for them.
Altogether more than 400 properties in Leicester are registered as having been purchased overseas. A few make obvious sense, since they reflect the origins of the up-front owner. Sofidel, the tissue manufacturer, is an Italian company and the land it bought on Barkby Thorpe Lane is naturally enough owned in Italy. The new Lidl being built near Phoenix Square is on land owned by the supermarket’s German parent company. Quite understandable. But most of the transactions are more mystifying. Why should a petrol station on Dysart Way be owned in Jersey? Why should someone in St Kitts and Nevis own a three-bed semi in Cornwall Road? What is it about the British Virgin Islands that makes someone there want to buy property on Glossop Street just off Evington Road? Why are the Slug and Lettuce pub on Market Street and the Bowling Green on Oxford Street owned in the Cayman Islands?
This last question has a straightforward answer—the Stonegate Pub Company Ltd which owns these and a handful of other pubs in Leicester has its registered office in the Cayman Islands. Even so, it files accounts at Companies House and is full and open in its reporting of its business in the UK. That makes it a bit of an exception. For many properties, it is impossible to trace the owner from the official Land Registry or other documents.
Overseas-held properties don’t have to be high value. At the modest end of the scale, a three-bed semi on Burnham Drive just off Blackbird Road sold for £125,000 in St Kitts and Nevis. Some of the prices are surprising, considering the time, effort and professional charges involved. Some land off Milligan Road was bought for just £4,450 in the British Virgin Islands. A parking space in Colton Square was bought for £8,985 in Guernsey.
All the above data was provided by the Land Registry. It is based on a report they compiled in December 2014 and is subject to Crown Copyright. It has not been updated. The Land Registry points out that some of it might be wrong, and there are clear duplications and apparent omissions. With overseas ownership, it’s never entirely clear what is going on. And that is its attraction—to some people.