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Despots’ real estate holdings in London

Stephen Beard Mar 15, 2011

Despots’ real estate holdings in London

Stephen Beard Mar 15, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: Even as former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak tries to fend off corruption charges at home, he’s got an overseas problem he has to deal with. What to do with all the property he and his family own? Middle Eastern dictators have built up large holdings overseas, often including swank properties in London, England.

Marketplace’s Stephen Beard took a tour.

Stephen Beard: Hello? Hello, is there anyone there?

No one’s at home at number 28 Wilton Place in Belgravia. At least no one is answering the door. But not surprising, perhaps, this five-story townhouse belongs to Gamal Mubarak, son of the ousted Egyptian dictator.

My expert on upscale London property is William Green.

Beard: William, what do you think?

William Green: This is a gem of a house, Stephen. It’s a Georgian property, double fronted. It’s got a a wrought iron balcony to what will be a first-floor drawing room, which will have probably 12 15-foot high ceilings. It will be very formally laid out.

How much is this property worth?

Green: A freehold property in this neck of the woods is going to be nudging the £15 million mark, I suspect.

Beard: £15 million or $22-23 million?

Green: Very likely.

We’ve now come about five miles north to another immensely expensive neighborhood. We’re on a tiny road called Winnington Close — standing in front of another property fit for a dictator or a dictator’s son. This one belongs to Saif Gaddafi.

Green: Well this is a beautiful house, it’s got an in and out drive. It’s a double-fronted, neo-Georgian residence.

Beard: And it has some pretty luxurious facilities?

Green: You have a private cinema, I gather this one is suede-lined. I believe there’s a swimming pool as well and a jacuzzi.

Gadaffi Jr. put this mansion on the market last month for £11 million or $18 million. But it may prove a bit difficult to sell. It’s now been occupied by protesters.

Knocking on door

Rather shy ones. Faces appear at the window, but they’re reluctant to speak to me.

Beard: American Public Radio. Can I have a word with somebody?

They won’t let me in, but after half an hour one of the protesters comes out. He says he’s Belkasen Alghiryani and that he and his friends are Libyans.

Saif Gaddafi’s London house

Beard: Why are you occupying the property? What point are you trying to make?

Belkasen Alghiryani: We’re just here to make sure this house go back to the Libyan people, which this house belong to.

Beard: Are you enjoying the facilities? Have you used the jacuzzi yet?

Alghiryani: No, we didn’t allow even us to use all these things, only what’s necessary, like the toilet and the kitchen.

Beard: What about the cinema?

Alghiryani: No.

Beard: And the swimming pool?

Alghiryani: Not to enjoy. We’re not having a party. We’re here to look after.

None of the permanent residents in this district — that I approached — wanted to comment on their neighbor, Mr. Gaddafi, except one Israeli-born writer, Saul Zadka.

Saul Zadka: I’m a bit uncomfortable to live next door to a mass murderer or a serial killer.

Dr. Zadka deplores the large number of African despots, Arab dictators and Russian mafiosa that have over the years been allowed a safe haven in London, where they live in some luxury — many, it seems, in his neighborhood. We drive along the nearby Bishops Avenue, often called Billionaire’s Row.

Zadka: As you can see from all the number of cranes on both sides of the street, they’re still in the process of expanding.

Beard: More dictators on the way perhaps?

Zadka: Yeah, I know. And I think the British love dictators. They like the lavishness and the outrageous lifestyle of dictators. It’s something mesmerizing.

He says the dictators may lie low here for a while, the government may freeze a few of their assets, but it won’t be long before they’re back openly enjoying their ill-gotten real estate in London.

I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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