Real Estate

UK for sale: how the wealthy hold British property via offshore firms

The BBC chair, Richard Sharp, more than 20 Conservative donors, a string of billionaire businessmen and the Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton are among those who have declared they own UK property through offshore jurisdictions, a Guardian investigation has found.

The declarations are made on the UK government’s new register of overseas entities, brought in to increase transparency and help the tax authorities by showing the ultimate owners of British property held offshore.

It shines a light on how wealthy businessmen, Gulf royals and states such as China have legally bought up billions of pounds of mostly London property, often via jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and the Channel Islands.

Sharp, who is under pressure over a loan secured by Boris Johnson, is the beneficial owner of a £4m flat in London held through a Jersey-based trust.

A spokesperson for Sharp said: “Mr Sharp is a UK citizen, UK domiciled and has always been meticulous about always paying the full amount of tax here. The flat in question is Richard’s elderly mother’s home.

“Like many parents he has been thinking about how to provide for his children on his death. This arrangement isn’t about a personal tax benefit to him as he pays more UK tax under this arrangement, but about him planning for provision for his children.”

Hamilton owns a £16.5m property in Kensington via the BVI. His spokesperson said he gained no tax benefits from the arrangement.

Lewis Hamilton arriving at a circuit in the Netherlands in 2021
Lewis Hamilton arriving at a circuit in the Netherlands in 2021. Photograph: Vincent Jannink/EPA

Yoko Ono is confirmed as the owner of her late husband John Lennon’s first home in Wavertree, Liverpool, via a company incorporated in the US state of Delaware.

As of noon on Friday the Companies House register listed 17,754 overseas entities, with thousands more expected to register before the 31 January deadline. With 55% of all overseas owners declared to date, the register shows that the royal families of Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar own about £1bn of UK property via tax havens such as Jersey and the BVI.

It also shows that the Chinese Investment Corporation, an arm of the Chinese government, owns at least £580m of property through offshore entities, including distribution centres vital for the flow of UK goods, such as food.

Chinese investment in the UK has been a source of concern and division within the government, with some MPs welcoming the flow of cash into Britain, while others have raised security concerns about the role played by China and Chinese companies in strategic assets.


The Conservative donors on the register include two peers, Irvine Laidlaw, who donated about £3.2m when the party was in opposition, and Stanley Fink, a former party treasurer, who has given about £3.7m over 20 years. Fink owns part of the St Pancras Renaissance hotel building through a Guernsey-based vehicle. He said: “To the best of my knowledge and belief I have gained no tax benefits from this structure whatsoever.” He said the deal had been structured like that when he was given the opportunity to invest.

Laidlaw, who is retired from the Lords, has a portfolio of offices and residential homes held through at least nine Isle of Man-based companies. Laidlaw has not responded to a request for comment.

Other Tory donors with UK property held offshore include the billionaire Reuben brothers, property developers with 106 vehicles spanning the BVI to Guernsey. A spokesperson for Reuben Brothers said: “All the entities are all liable to UK taxes and any taxes due have been paid in compliance with HMRC.”

Wafic Saïd, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist who is credited with helping Saudi Arabia buy British weapons in 1985 in the biggest arms deal in history, known as al-Yamamah, is listed as one of the ultimate owners of a Bermuda company that holds a commercial property in the City of London.

He said: “As with many other foreign investors, my family hold some UK investments through overseas companies. I am assured that is perfectly legal. In any case, I am not resident in the UK and I am not a beneficiary of the trust which holds this property.”

The Guardian believes there is a public interest in reporting on the business interests and property ownership structures of wealthy, politically connected and influential people.

Quick Guide

UK for sale: reporting on the register of overseas entities


The UK government’s new register of overseas entities was created to improve transparency around British property ownership and help the authorities ensure the right amount of tax is paid. Holding property through offshore companies is legal. Owners of property through offshore companies may do so for many reasons, from tax benefits to privacy or liking the stability or simplicity of a certain offshore tax regime. In the words of the government, offshore taxation is “complex”.

But ministers have concluded transparency around foreign ownership of UK property is an important step in improving the operation of the tax system. “Whilst the vast majority of people and businesses pay the right amount of tax, mistakes are made,” the government said in its explanation of why the register was being introduced. The register of overseas entities appears to be a big step forward in transparency, with thousands of owners, including the ones reported on by the Guardian, coming forward to declare their properties. All those named as beneficial owners on the register have complied with their legal obligations to declare their holdings. About a quarter of the companies making declarations so far still do not reveal their ownership publicly, because trusts are only required to give information on their beneficiaries to the tax authorities.

The Guardian has previously reported on offshore ownership of companies via leaks such as the Paradise papers and the Pandora papers, leading to governments including the UK government applying greater scrutiny to international tax affairs and offshore secrecy. The Guardian believes shining a light on the property in the UK held through foreign and offshore firms by rich, politically connected and influential people enhances that process of transparency and allows readers to better understand the power structures that affect their daily lives.

Thank you for your feedback.

The new register was launched last year. Individuals have until 31 January to declare they are the beneficial owners of overseas companies that own UK property.

Three-quarters of the registered companies are based in five jurisdictions: the BVI, Jersey, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Luxembourg.

Holding properties through offshore companies is legal and some individuals may have genuine and legitimate privacy or security concerns or business reasons for using them. Experts say it can be done to minimise an individual’s tax liability as the owner or buyer of a property, or, until now, to allow a property to be held anonymously. Some investors also cite the stability of the tax regime in jurisdictions such as Jersey and Guernsey as a reason their companies are based there, or they may live abroad.


“Historically, there have been some really great tax advantages from owning UK property via offshore companies,” said Robert Palmer, the executive director of the campaign group Tax Justice UK. “The government has closed down quite a lot of them but there are still ways you can pay less tax by owning property via offshore companies.”

Politicians have taken action to make ownership of UK property through overseas companies more expensive, imposing stamp duty of 15% and an annual charge of £3,800 to £244,750 for the most expensive properties. However, despite these moves, thousands of owners of UK-based property still hold their assets through offshore jurisdictions.

Hundreds of entries on the register do not reveal the beneficial owners of many overseas companies because they are owned by secretive trusts based offshore. The ultimate owners of these have been registered and are available to HMRC but not the general public. Those named on the register have all complied with their legal obligations declaring their ownership.

Reporting team: Joseph Smith, Ben Quinn, Pamela Duncan, Carmen Aguilar García, Zeke Hunter-Green, Sabina Bejasa-Dimmock


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.