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Tales from the Life of the Ukrainian Elite: Akhmetov’s and Pinchuk’s Real Estate in London

Serhiy Leshchenko, Ukrainska Pravda _ Tuesday, August 21, 2012, 12:05

Ukrayinska Pravda continues to investigate and describe foreign real estate belonging to the Ukrainian Establishment. After visiting Ihor Kolomoisky’s villa on Lake Geneva, apartments owned by Azarov’s son in Vienna, and Serhiy Klyuyev’s home in the Austrian hinterland, we now travel to London.
– What did you say? Rinat Akhmetov? I’ve heard that name before …, -muses our interlocuter.
Robert Dunn is a civil servant in the Scottish government; when we talked to him, Akhmetov’s name popped into his mind as soon as we mentioned Ukraine.
– That seems to be the man who bought the most expensive apartment in the world! – in Robert’s imagination projected slides about Ukraine form a particular picture.
For the British, Rinat Akhmetov has become a symbol of a country, which is known for its extremely low standards of living and incredible wealth of a few persons close to central power. Last year, Akhmetov made the headlines in the local press as the buyer of the most expensive apartment in the world. He paid 220 million dollars for the apartment at One Hyde Park.
These premises combine two apartments into one, with a total surface area of ​​2,300 square meters, located on the top floors of the most prestigious building in the British capital – One Hyde Park.
The report, which first appeared in the Financial Times, took apart Akhmetov’s carefully created image of a “philanthropist”. It turned out that for only one acquisition of a residence abroad, he spent an amount that would suffice to build the most advanced medical facilities in his homeland.
Trying to reassure the Ukrainian public, the press service of SCM (System Capital Management) made a special announcement stating that this apartment was only a well-planned real estate investment.

Press Service of SCM: “The property, situated at One Hyde Park in London, was acquired by SCM as a portfolio investment in 2007… According to experts, the value of this asset is expected to grow over the next few years. We believe that the purchase of this London property is an excellent investment, and the diversity of our real estate portfolio is effective”.

Subsequently, the Party of Regions rushed to spread the statement issued by the Deputy, Iryna Horyn, according to which British journalists had misunderstood everything – Akhmetov had bought an office, not an apartment.

“… As Iryna Horyn stated, speculations about the SCM Group buying property in London are clearly an obvious attempt of political interference in the company’s commercial operations and an attempt to discredit big business in Ukraine as such. “That’s not at all the European way – telling companies what business they should invest in. This kind of reaction can only be qualified as a typical example of an exclusive newspaper scoop.” she added.
She explained that many media companies believed that purchasing office buildings was akin to purchasing luxury apartmentss.
“Such speculations are attempts to discredit the Party of Regions through Mr. Akhmetov, who is a member of this political party, and it is also an attempt to find a class enemy of big business, which constitutes and contributes to this country’s budget.” said Ms. Horyn.
It’s a real joke to hear Ms.Horyn talking about “”unEuropean” actions” as she became a symbolic figure of election bribery in Kharkiv. Even more surprising are Regionnaire allegations against such publications as the Financial Times and the British tabloid, Daily Mail, which they accused of “searching for a class enemy.”
During our visit to London, we decided to check out what kind of “office building” Akhmetov had acquired for 220 million dollars last year, and just how true are the statements issued by his press service about the property being only a “portfolio investment”.

 

 

                                                                                                                Photo: Ukrayinska Pravda

Before heading out to One Hyde Park, we met with David Spittles, a journalist covering real estate issues for the London newspaper – Evening Standard.
He remembers the story of Akhmetov’s purchase of this apartment. “The property developers of One Hyde Park are the Candy brothers, extravagant London “dandies”. They began buying up apartments, doing them up, creating designs, and then selling them at much higher prices. In 2007, they bought the building, which stood on this site, destroyed it and ordered a new project – One Hyde Park – to be designed by the world-famous architect, Richard Rogers (Pompidou Center in Paris and Lloyds Headquarters in London). I think that the Candy brothers probably leaked information about Akhmetov purchasing an apartment in this building… it was all a great hype to promote this construction.”-  said the journalist in an interview with Ukrayinska Pravda.
It’s impossible to get inside One Hyde Park. Even if you want to visit this residential complex as a potential buyer, you first have to fill out a special form stipulating that you will not disclose what you have seen… Even before that, the agency conducts a thorough study of your financial capacity.
People who have visited the premises mention the very low ceiling designed for apartments going at such a price – about 3 meters. Residents can enjoy a 21-meter long swimming pool, mini-cinema theater, golf simulator, and the convenience of ordering from the next-door restaurant – the Mandarin Oriental. One of the most important components of the price is the exclusive location of the building – right across from Hyde Park and Harrods, London’s highest quality shopping center.

 

 

                                                                                                                Photo: Ukrayinska Pravda

“Security measures at One Hyde Park include bulletproof windows and a “panic-room” (a shelter in case of danger or natural disasters). These features allow Mr. Akhmetov to feel safe and secure thanks to former British Special Forces officers.” – notes Luxpresso.com, describing the advantages of living in this luxury complex.
Even Rinat Akhmetov’s “poorest” neighbours have to pay an incredible amount of money for their home – a studio apartment in this building is worth about 6,750,000 pounds.
Realizing that it would be impossible to get into One Hyde Park, we decided to act at random. Our story was that we had a letter for Mr. Akhmetov, which we had to deliver to the wealthy Ukrainian.
Security guards patrolling the street actually stop you even before you can step over the threshold. They direct you firmly, but politely towards the service entrance. Another guard, who was on duty at this entrance, proceeded to call a concierge.

This man told us more than we expected:
– Akhmetov? I know this gentleman, and I‘ve seen his apartment. -confessed our interlocutor.
– Can we leave this letter for him?
– Yes. But, I”ll have to scan it.
– Does he live here?
– No, they’re still working on his floor. Nobody lives here yet. It’ll take a few more months for the house to be ready. However, their representatives come here every few weeks.
Thus, the Regionnaires’ story that the apartment at One Hyde Park is really office property collapsed under the weight of facts. In fact, nothing will stop Mr. Akhmetov from residing in his “portfolio investment” because in reality this euphemism masks the most expensive apartment in the world, owned by a Ukrainian oligarch.
A supplement to the story of the apartment was a letter, which was photographed this year in the hands of Akhmetov’s attorney, Yuriy Voropayev; it described the how the oligarch’s wife obtained British citizenship.
We move on… to the next “Ukrainian” address in London… at 17 Kensington Street, Upper Phillimore Gardens.

 

 

In 2008, the British public was also shocked to read about the acquisition of the most expensive house in the world – an estate in a quiet London district purchased by Olena Pinchuk, the daughter of ex-President Leonid Kuchma; at that time, she was known under her maiden name – Franchuk. She paid 80 million pounds for this five-storey Victorian villa, which is more than a billion UAH according to the current exchange rate.
After this appeared in the news, her husband, Viktor Pinchuk, gave an interview to Dzerkalo Tyzhnia (a Ukrainian newspaper), whereby he voiced the same arguments as Akhmetov – this house was not bought as a residence, but as an investment.

 

Viktor Pinchuk: “I know perfectly well that today London is the most expensive city in the world, and property prices there will rise at a fantastic pace. Personally, I suggest that anyone who can invest in real estate should put his money there. New capital investments from Asia, China, India, the Arab countries, and Russia are flooding into London. Even today we could sell the home that we bought for 10-15% more. I wasn’t even thinking about buying “the most expensive house in London”. We chose this property for investment purposes, not for residency.”

 

From 1941 to 1997, Leonid Kuchma’s London villa was a school for girls. After repairs and renovations, the surface area of this mansion measures 18,000 square feet (about 2 thousand square meters).
Forbes magazine gives a description of the house: it is equipped with an elevator for eight people, two dining rooms, nine bedrooms with bathrooms, a swimming pool, gym, and sauna.
According to the Evening Standard, repairs to the house amounted to 10 million pounds and included the construction of an indoor swimming pool, gym, sauna, and cinema theater.
Upper Phillimore Gardens is a quiet street stretching 200-300 meters. A Porsche, a Mercedes S600, and a BMW 7 Series are parked near the homes.
It’s almost seven p.m., but there’s no one walking along the street. Suddenly, the door of a house opens, and out comes a Briton dressed in an elegant business suit; he heads towards a nearby Mercedes. We know that everyone here is aware of the neighbours from the poor ex-Soviet country.
– We’re looking for the house owned by Viktor Pinchuk, the Ukrainian oligarch. Can you tell us where it is?
– No, but why are you looking for it?
– I’m a journalist.
The man begins to talk more freely…
– If you mean Miss Pinchuk’s house, it’s that building over there, at the end of the street.
A few more blocks and… indeed, we come upon a lovely estate, which has been highlighted in various columns of the British press.

 

 

 

                                                                                                      Photos : Ukrayinska Pravda

 

Major renovations were begun immediately after the purchase of the house on Upper Phillimore Gardens. They can still be viewed on photographs posted on Google Street View. Today, the residence has a dazzling facade. So, we may presume that it was decided to make the “investment” more appealing and suitable for daily use.

 

                                                                                                   Old photo from Google Street View

I press the button at the door …
– Yes?
– May I speak to Miss Pinchuk?
– Wrong address, – answers a voice over the speakerphone.
The house is surrounded by a fence and a row of hedges, so we can’t see anything beyond. The only thing that we notice is a strange monstrous black head that we can’t quite make out through the thick plants.

 

 

As we proceed towards the side of Mr. Pinchuk’s home, we can see a full-size sculpture. It is a large male figure, created from sea-polished stones.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                        Photos: Ukrayinska Pravda

 

 

Our intuition was right – there, in the courtyard of the villa in a quiet London district called Upper Phillimore Gardens stood a statueof the cult British artist, Antony Gormley – “Infection”.

 

It might be superfluous to remind readers that Viktor Pinchuk is one of the greatest collectors of Gormley’s artwork, some of which he has exhibited at the PinchukArtCentre in Kyiv.
It should be mentioned that “the most expensive house in the world” (according to documents produced in 2008) is owned by Anmarto Limited based in … the British Virgin Islands. This is public information because the registration of any property in the UK is available on the Internet. Perhaps this offshore company was set up only for the purpose of registering an owner of this property. There is no other sign or mention of the company on the Internet…

 

                                                                                                                 Pinchuk’s backyard

 

 
                     The Bruns Company, specializing in landscape design, posted these photographs on their website.

Of course, in both cases – Messrs. Akhmetov’s and Pinchuk’s real estate – the story that these residences were acquired as mere investments does not withstand serious scrutiny. In fact, both of these properties, the most expensive real estate in the world, were obviously purchased for another reason – as residential quarters in London.

For some reason or other, both Rinat Akhmetov and Viktor Pinchuk are ashamed to admit this fact. After all… the methods they employed to acquire state-owned property didn’t make them bat an eyelid or give us any reason to suspect them of hiding their true feelings.