HEIGHT OF MYSTERY

No one knows who paid £160 million for the UK’s most expensive home

Bright lights, big money.
Bright lights, big money.
Image: AP Photo/Invision/Joey Ryan
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Here are a few things we know about the UK’s most expensive home ever sold: It has wraparound balconies and stellar views of London, 24-hour services from a five-star hotel, wine cellars, a golf simulator, and a £160-million ($209-million) price tag.

Here’s what remains a mystery: The identity of the buyer.

The record-breaking sale of a two-floor penthouse in One Hyde Park, an apartment complex in the upscale neighborhood of Knightsbridge, occurred in May, The Guardian reports. Two holding companies, PHB London Holdings Ltd and PHB London Dormant Ltd, purchased the property with a loan from Credit Suisse, according to Bloomberg, although the bank declined to comment on the matter. Previously, the most expensive home ever sold in the UK was a 300-year-old property named Park Place, which was bought by a Russian buyer for £140 million in 2011.

The reason why the person or persons behind the One Hyde Park sale can remain anonymous is because London Holdings and London Dormant are based in Guernsey, a British crown dependency in the English Channel that does not have to list the beneficial owners of companies.

The £160-million sale price might be the highest of its kind in the country, but the secrecy surrounding the owners is nothing new. London’s real estate market has a reputation as a haven for laundered money—see, for example, the unsolved mystery of who owns the  £130-million “Sherlock Holmes” property or the case of the Nigerian kleptocrats who are able to purchase high-end real-estate. A new law this year ordered UK territories to disclose who owns secretive companies but Channel Islands (like Guernsey) and the Isle of Man remain exempt.

Mysterious foreign owners aren’t just a UK phenomenon. In 2015, the New York Times launched a five-part investigation into the rich individuals and families who owned some of Manhattan’s most expensive properties. As the New Yorker pointed out, while the investigation highlighted specific cases for concern, much of the money that finances such purchases is legitimate, and the world’s ultra-rich most likely just want to maintain their privacy.

Staying anonymous in the UK comes with a higher price. The new owner of apartment B.10.01 at One Hyde Park will have to pay £220,000 ($287,000) a year in taxes just to keep their identity secret. Research from the Guardian has shown that there are more than 200 rich individuals from overseas who are willing to do so, rather than reveal who they are.

“The government should be really embarrassed that we have no way of knowing who owns the most expensive home in the UK,” Ava Lee of Global Witness, the anti-corruption NGO, told the Guardian. “But that’s just the tip of the iceberg: Our analysis showed there are over 86,000 properties owned by secret companies, and we’re still in the dark about all of them,” Lee said.

According to the UK’s Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, the government will launch a register in 2021 that reveals the owners of overseas companies buying property in the country.