Under a leaden sky, our tour bus snakes through Knightsbridge, passing Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and the showrooms of Ferrari and Tom Ford. My camera-wielding companions display a blithe indifference to these international brand names, the signifiers of status, wealth, and glamour.
The bus pulls up on Brompton Road and we trundle off, turning our backs on the Baroque magnificence of The Oratory. As the drizzle seeps through our clothes, we stare intently at the terracotta tiling of the disused Brompton Road tube station before wandering down Cottage Place to take a look at the frankly vulgar exterior of a Kensington mansion.
We are not here to swap notes on architectural styles: our aim is to learn about the tycoons whose aversion to publicity is matched only by their enthusiasm for eye-catching baubles.
This is one of many stops on an itinerary put together by Roman Borisovich, a former insurance executive and the driving force behind the Committee for Legislation Against Money Laundering in Properties by Kleptocrats. His so-called “Kleptocracy Tours” aim to highlight the properties snapped up by billionaires from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and elsewhere, who, Borisovich maintains, exploit London’s central role in the world of offshore finance.
The expensive pile on Cottage Place and its neighbouring tube station is owned by Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian businessman and former adviser to Vladimir Putin. Firtash isn’t home when we call: he is in Austria fighting extradition to the United States on bribery charges.
Our guide for this part of the tour, the author and investigative journalist Oliver Bullough, point out that Firtash has not been convicted of any crime. “Here we have a situation whereby the UK government says it is in its interests to see a democratic, prosperous, Western-aligned Ukraine – and yet here we have the British government selling a piece of its capital to a man closely aligned to the previous Ukrainian administration and an ally of Vladimir Putin.”
The next stretch of the tour takes us to Acacia Road in leafy St John’s Wood. According to a Sunday Times report, based on Land Registry documents, a £23m house in the prosperous suburb is the property of Andrey Yakunin – son of Vladimir Yakunin, the former boss of the Russian railways and an old friend of Putin. The newspaper report linked the eight-bedroom property to Yakunin Junior via a British Virgin Islands-based company Terphos Financial.
The final stage on our itinerary is Baker Street. If you fancy the idea of paying an eye watering rent for a flat surrounded by tourist tat and besieged by backpackers in search of the Beatles Store and Sherlock Holmes’s fictional address, this is the place for you. It will no doubt warm your cockles to know that your hard-earned money is helping to sustain the lifestyle of the beneficial owners, the Kazakh royal family.
Our tour takes place on the eve of the summit on corruption hosted by prime minister David Cameron. Roman Borisovich tells us he is optimistic that positive change is in the air. He says he wants the British governed to impose tougher laws on the “enablers”, the legions of lawyers and estate agents who profit from their paymasters dubious deals.
He says: “We need to see cases where professionals are brought to justice and punished for their assistance in laundering millions of pounds.”
But it’s a safe bet that he will be adding further addresses to his tour for some time yet.
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