A Kleptocracy Tour of London with Oliver Bullough

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Hello, I’m Oliver Bullough, welcome to Hyde
Park. For 400 years Londoners have been coming here to freely speak, to freely
assemble, to sunbathe, to horse ride, to do all the things that are most fun to do
in London in an open space. But we’re not here to talk about for Hyde Park, we’re
here to talk about One Hyde Park, the building behind me which is probably
the most exclusive gated community in the world. The epitome of what I call, in
my new book, Moneyland. The penthouse up there was bought by a
Ukrainian oligarch just under 10 years ago for £140m.
At the time that was eight hundred times more expensive than
the average house in London. The other properties have gone to the wealthy
nomadic elite from all over the world and their money has utterly
transformed not just this building but all of this part of London. Money has
poured in from Angola, from Nigeria, from Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine; you name it
the money has come here and pushed house prices beyond the reach of any ordinary
person. But the effect hasn’t just been extraordinary on this part of London,
it’s been absolutely devastating on the countries where the money comes from. On
Angola where poverty is now at appalling proportions; in Nigeria where whole
chunks of the country are outside of central government control; on Ukraine, the part
of the country, part of Ukraine, where that gentleman made his fortune is no
longer in central government control. The money has been sucked out of places that
desperately need it and dumped right here in a place where we really, really
don’t need it at all. And as we walk along I’m going to show a few of the
things that money gets spent on, some of the people who’ve been spending it, and
why it is that we don’t know anything about it. A trillion dollars is stolen
every year from the world’s poorest countries and spent in places like this.
A trillion dollars is an enormous amount of money, if you were to count to a
trillion that would take you approximately 31,000 years; it’s a vast
number. And really if you’ve got that much money you need expensive things to
spend it on. So what’s it gonna be? Well cars obviously, there’s a McLaren
concession here, clothes, Burberry. Watches. Watches are a good way of
spending money. There are three Rolex concessions, one in One Hyde Park, one on
the Brompton Road, and another one in Harrods. And just look at Harrods. Harrods
is the most amazing shop, you can buy anything
expensive in Harrods. If you look at the turnover of the British fishing industry,
every year £725m, it’s a lot of money. The turnover of Harrods, one
shop, £2bn. But if all this money is being spent and frankly to be
honest most of its going on property because really if you want to spend a
lot of money you need to spend it on property, why don’t we know about it? Well
we don’t know about it because they’re doing it through shell companies. So let
me try and show you how that works. So this is, let’s say this book is a house. I
own it, you can see I own it I’ve got it in my hand. But if instead of owning it
directly I own it via a plain wrapper, a shell company in, let’s say, in the
British Virgin Islands. And then that shell company in the British Virgin
Islands you know that’s owned via a trust in let’s put it in Jersey. There you go,
now you can’t see anything at all. And just to be on the safe side let’s own
the trust in Jersey with an anonymized bank account in, let’s put it in
Switzerland. There you go now all it looks like is, well it doesn’t like anything
really does it, because that’s Switzerland – Jersey – British Virgin Islands,
all concealing my ownership of this house. Simple. Now we’re gonna have a look
at one person who’s bought one of those houses. What we’re looking at here, apart
from me obviously, is sixty million pounds worth of house. And if that
doesn’t look like much house for £60m that’s because you’re
only looking at half of it, it goes down as much as it goes up. In the second
basement there is a swimming pool. This belongs to a gentleman called
Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian who made an absolute fortune by essentially allying
with Gazprom, with Vladimir Putin, to overcharge everyone in Ukraine for gas.
The deal he imposed on Ukraine back in 2006/7 was so onerous that
essentially it destroyed the government in Ukraine, the government collapsed and
he made an absolute fortune. But once you’ve made an absolute fortune in
Ukraine you don’t really want to spend it there so he came here to spend it
instead. And oh did he spend it! He spent it in Cambridge University, he was
on the guild of benefactors, by 2011 only three years after he’d arrived he was
hanging out with the Duke of Edinburgh. That’s pretty impressive social climbing
for anyone from Ukraine. And then obviously he needed somewhere to live
so he bought this in 2012 from mega developer Mike Spink. But even this
wasn’t really enough and if you look in the distance, that’s a tube station.
£53.3m He bought that from the Ministry of Defense
in early 2014. But sadly the problem for him is that the American authorities
took a rather less relaxed attitude to the origin of his wealth than the
British one’s did. And they’ve indicted him for corruption and he’s currently
facing, he’s a sitting in Vienna battling extradition to the United States. So he
doesn’t even get to enjoy this beautiful house. But the moral of the story isn’t
really about appalling houses or Rolexes, it’s about the fact that this entire
part of London, in fact this entire city is making a living from sucking in money
from people who really shouldn’t have it and taking it from places that really,
really need it. And we don’t really even get anything from it because all it
means is we don’t have shops that normal people might want to go to, like, people
who don’t want Rolexes. And we don’t have houses that normal people can live in
because no one can afford a £60m house apart from Ukrainian
billionaires. And this is essentially the message of Moneyland. That we have
created a system that benefits only the richest and it really works against
everyone else in the world and so I hope if you read the book you’ll understand a
few reasons why this is so bad and a few of the tools that we can start using to
try and turn the tide back to the world as it used to be, before money
essentially broke free of any kind of control.

12 comments

  1. In 1960, before those railings were there, I used to walk along that wall after mass with Ma at the Oratory. We lived in 150 Old Brompton Road (loved a Wimpy in Sth Ken on the way home) where Ma was a housekeeper. We were poor folk surrounded by money and the feelings expressed in this video are very familiar to me from way back.
    The rich in UK, India, Russia, China, wherever, have more in common with one another than they do with the poor in their own countries. Funny old world eh?

  2. Pathetic how these oligarchs love their money. And they're never satisfied! All competing against each other… The one with the most toys when they die, wins? Really.

  3. If you loot the poor in X make sure that money stays in X. So the bigger better looter comes along and do the same thing and so on. The problem is stable democracies like UK and US are too greedy to let that happen. I really loved the book.

  4. Thank you, Oliver Bullough – it's great to see what we know, or suspect, fleshed out with clear facts and simple storytelling. Brilliant book – couldn't you stand for political office? Lots of MEP seats up for grabs!

  5. Read Oliver's piece on The Caribbean tax haven of Nevis, west indies. Interesting read to say the least. Interesting his referring to the island as a whole as bottom feeders and interesting how he seemed to chummy up to the past administration under Denzel Douglas. The fact of the matter is, the world and life is not fair place and the rich will always look for ways and means to get richer and hide their wealth. Eastern Europeans have done it all over the world from the uk to the USA etc. Why mr Bullough felt the need to denigrate a little 3rd world island is beyond me, never mind the fact that his beloved uk built up itself on the backs of exploited people all over the world (hypocrites).

  6. interesting that in his book and sometimes in his interviews, he will make a passing mention of the fractional reserve banking system. Where if you can get a banking license you can lend out 10 times the deposits in your bank. That scam which is so entrenched it is defined as banking itself, dwarfs moneyland.

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