REVEALED: Offshore tax havens with a grip on multimillion pound Islington properties

Video by Tomas Doherty

The Steam Passage Tavern is one of over a thousand Islington properties owned by companies with offshore holdings

More than 1600 properties in Islington are owned by companies registered in the world’s most notorious tax havens, Islington Now can exclusively reveal.

Analysis of the Land Registry has shown the extent of offshore investment in Islington property, with data released this month showing 1,672 properties owned by 506 different companies registered in countries recognised by the IMF as offshore financial centres. 334 have been acquired in the past year.

The collective value of the properties comes to £773m. However, as only a fifth of properties within the data provide a sale price, the true figure could be as high as £3.5 billion.

The better known properties include the Travelodge on City Road, owned by City Road Investments registered in Jersey, Nags Head Shopping Centre on Holloway Road, owned by Guernsey’s Islington Holdings, and Steam Passage pub which is currently held by Stonegate Pub Company based in the Cayman Islands.

The most expensive property with an available value is Tufnell Park Hall, near Upper Holloway, which provides third-party student accommodation to University College London and City University among others. It was acquired for £92 million in October 2013 by Athena Asset 5, a company registered in Jersey. Student Living Heights on Goswell Road is also owned by an offshore company, Estera Administration based in Guernsey.

Another valuable offshore property is Finsbury Tower, acquired for £67 million in 2015 by the Jersey-based Finsbury Tower Estates. Last year, Islington Council controversially approved a 12-storey extension to the tower despite widespread opposition from heritage campaigners.

The Council dismissed concerns that the tower would loom over nearby historic places like the Artillery Arms pub and the Bunhill Fields burial ground, the resting place of Daniel Defoe and William Blake, arguing that the tower would bring benefits to the area.

Clerkenwell’s Glasshouse Yard, acquired for £40 million at the end of last year by Jersey-based company Glasshouse Yard, is the current home of a subsidiary of Amazon, which paid just £15 million tax on European revenues of £19.5bn in 2016.

Gilboa Holdings, registered in Bermuda, acquired 21-24 Chiswell Street – the home the Association of Investment Companies – for £47.65 million in 2015. Data from the Paradise Papers leak, made available by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), shows that the company – along with another 2194 entities – is an intermediary of Panocean Secretarial Services. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Gilboa. Intermediaries are frequently used to avoid paying income tax and National Insurance contributions.

By far the most popular tax haven in Islington is the British Virgin Islands (BVI). 644 of the 1,672 offshore-registered properties in Islington are owned by companies based in the British Overseas Territory, whose opaque banking system has made it a popular choice for companies seeking “maximum tax efficiency”. The BVI charges no corporation or capital gains tax and companies there currently hold assets worth £1.19 trillion.

Country Incorporated Number of Islington properties registered
British Virgin Islands 644
Jersey 330
Guernsey 185
Gibraltar 84
Isle of Man 83
Luxembourg 64
Cyprus 59
Singapore 52
Bahamas 39
Ireland 29
Seychelles 24
Panama 16
Brunei 15
Hong Kong 15
Cayman Islands 8
Belize 6
Bermuda 6
Anguilla 4
Switzerland 3
St Kitts and Nevis 2
Malaysia 1
Samoa 1
St Vincent and the Grenadines 1
Turks and Caicos Islands 1
Total 1672

The BVI is where Choice Win Investment is registered, an investment company which owns the freeholds or leaseholds to 223 properties in Islington. It has had a chequered history, being incorporated and dissolved twice between 1992 and 2015. Despite the Hong Kong Company register marking it as dissolved, it still has properties registered in Islington, with the company registered in the BVI.

Although companies which use tax havens are not necessarily breaking the law, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has promised to combat those who evade tax.

They have published proposals set to take effect in October of this year which will allow more time to investigate those holding offshore assets who haven’t declared the right amount of tax.

However, the registering of company members in places like the BVI remains optional.

The full dataset can be found here.