We love being the playground of the international elite, but have we gone too far?
London loves millionaires. And multi-millionaires, and naturally billionaires – although multi-billionaires are really our favourite.
We love them so much that we have attracted quite an admirable collection of the world’s rich and famous, and increasingly the filthy stinking rich and famous too. We’re open for business and we don’t care who knows it.
The problem, however, is that while most high-net worth individuals help drive up investment, enterprise and boost London’s reputation as an international, enterprising city, it is hard to deny that others mar our standing.
Not all money is good money. Some has been stolen, some laundered. Some has even come to the hands of corrupt leaders and businessmen through coercion, kidnapping and gross human rights violations.
Yet London has on occasion chosen to turn a blind eye when embracing the global elite, and has over the decades allowed dictators and tyrants and their families to set up shop here and buy up large swaths of luxury real estate.
1) Pakistani Ex-President – Pervez Musharraf
General Pervez Musharraf won power in Pakistan thanks to a military coup in 1999, and stayed in the top seat until he was dramatically ousted in 2008.
Instead of standing trial though, Musharraf fled to London – Edgware Road to be precise – and has lived here ever since with his wife Sehba, frequently spotted pottering around and shopping in Knightsbridge.
The pair may well have continued in their self-imposed exile relatively unnoticed, but things took a turn towards the dramatic this month when the four-star general decided to return to Pakistan in an attempt to re-launch his political career.
Instead of finding himself greeted by adoring fans, Musharraf soon found himself in handcuffs. He now stands accused of conspiring to assassinate the former president and presidential hopeful Benazir Bhutto in 2007, and sacking judges in order to impose Emergency Rule that same year.
While he may have been an ally in the “war against terror”, Musharraf’s rule was noted for its failure to clear up mind-bending corruption and for permitting widespread human rights abuses.
Even before his UK arrival, Amnesty International was calling on the then Parkistani president to be held to account for permitting “arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, and torture and ill-treatment – coupled with pervasive political violence.” What an all-round charming chap.
2) Libya’s Saif and Saadi Gaddafi
For a brief moment in late 2011, a previously sleepy part of Hampstead grabbed the world’s attention as every camera in the known universe focused in on the plush London pad where, unbeknown to most, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s sons Saif and Saadi had been living for years and spending their family’s vast ill-begotten fortune.
Their nine-bedroom, £11m house was allegedly used as a sex and drug hangout for the younger brother Saadi, who loved to bring escorts there. It was also home to his elder brother Saif who stayed there while pursuing his PhD at the London School of Economics in the early and mid 2000s. Saif was later found to have paid LSE £1.5m in donations throughout the course of his studies, via a family-run charity,
The news of the mansion leaked in 2011, after the Libyan regime brutally tried to suppress an uprising against its rule, pushing the UK and other NATO countries to intervene militarily in order to topple the dictator.
As British aircraft were pounding Gaddafi’s positions, Saif was busy trying to offload his London property in an attempt to undermine the international freeze enacted against his family’s assets.
He failed in his attempts, but the property wasn’t left empty for long. In March squatters took claim of the mansion, protesting that it had been purchased with “blood money”.
By the time of Muammar Gaddafi’s death in October 2011, some estimates put his personal fortune at $200bn, making him the wealthiest individual to have ever lived.
While this has been disputed, the UK government did freeze £280m worth of other Gaddafi family property investments in West London, as well as a £200m stake in publishers Pearson, owners of the Financial Times.
3) Indonesia’s ruling Suharto family
Once ranked the sixth richest person in the world, Indonesia’s long-serving president Suharto was known for reigning with an iron fist.
Upon gaining power in 1967, he built up the secret police, bloodily repressed all suspected Communists and made it possible to detain anyone seen to be insulting the president. Suharto’s invasion into East Timor alone is said to have cost 100,000 lives in just a few years, with countless political opponents perishing during the course of his almost 31-year-long rule.
These crimes may have left him facing the prospect of genocide charges, but power came with many perks. By the time Suharto left office in 1998, the US estimated his personal fortune at £16bn, with his family owning vast assets – including many here in London.
According to Time Asia, Suharto’s son Sigit Harjoyudanto Suharto used to own two Hampstead mansions worth $12m each in 1999 terms. His daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana “Tutut” Suharto was more a fan of Central London, owning a luxury home in Hyde Park Square, where a two-bedroom flat is now worth more than £1m.
Suharto’s cousin Siti Hediati Hariyadi “Titiek” also loved London and is said to have owned a Grosvenor Square pad. A two bedroom apartment there currently costs between £2m and £5m.
Nor were the family stripped of their wealth. In exchange for stepping down quietly, the Suharto clan was allowed to retire in a palatial estate just outside Jakarta and keep many of their international and national holdings, including hotels.
4) The Mubaraks
As the regime of Hosny Mubarak was crumbling, rumours were flying around that his British-born wife and two sons Alaa and Gamal were fleeing to London.
The news turned out to be false, but could well have come to pass. The disgraced presidential family own vast holdings in London, including millions of investments, in addition to a $8.5m London townhouse a stone’s throw from Harrods in Knightsbridge. The family were often seen splashing thousands if not tens of thousands on shopping at London department stores, and spent much of their time living the high life here.
Thanks to their excesses, Gamal, the older son Alaa and Mubarak’s wife Suzanne all became hated in Egypt and seen as symbols of the regime’s blatant corruption and nepotism.
While 20% of the population lived below the poverty line – less than $2 a day – the presidential family managed to gather a fortune worth $25bn during their almost 30-year rule.
The three Mubarak men have since been tried over complicity in killing some 800 protesters during the final days of Mubarak’s rule in 2011. They were all cleared of corruption charges, although the sickly Hosny Mubarak has been sentenced to life for conspiring in the deaths of the protestors, and is expected to stand trial again on charges of misappropriation of state funds.
With cases like these often dominating the headlines, it may be high time we rethought our open embrace and thought about the kind of people of ultra-wealthy we want to see as our neighbours…
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