Kensington residents launch campaign against dirty money as £283m Russian-owned properties identified

Anti-corruption researchers have identified more £283million of properties in Kensington and Chelsea, whose owners have links to Vladimir Putin or corruption.

Activists brought a washing machine full of cash to the leafy streets of Kensington as they launched a new campaign to crack down on dirty money.

Campaigners in Kensington and Chelsea have warned their area is the most unequal in the UK - with more than 5,000 households in insecure homes.

While anti-corruption researchers have identified over £283million worth of properties whose owners have links to Vladimir Putin or corruption.

Joe Powell, from Kensington Against Dirty Money (KADM), said: “We’ve had enough of the dirty money that has been a huge problem in our borough for a very long time.

“We are the number one destination in the country for anonymous foreign-owned property.

“We are here to say enough is enough.”

Joe Powell from Kensington Against Dirty Money. Photo: LondonWorld

Mr Powell is calling for “more transparency” over who owns properties in the borough.

“We want to see enforcement - investigators given the staff and resources they need to go after assets owned by oligarchs,” he said.

“We want to see action on empty properties and we want to see this council invest properly in affordable housing that people can actually live in.

He said Kensington council had a list of 1,000 unused properties paying the empty homes levy, which he said the group believed was an underestimation, and the group is calling for better identification of empty properties and wider use of the levy.

“If you’re on a sanctions list like Roman Abramovich, then I think his property should be seized immediately and made available for Ukrainian refugees,” he said.

“I don’t think we should be seizing everybody’s property, that’s not what we’re talking about.

The statue of St Volodymyr in Holland Park. Photo: LondonWorld

“There needs to be a proper investigation. If you’re put on a sanctions list or the property you purchased was bought with corrupt funds, then we should be moving into that territory.

“We’re not talking about seizing every single property - it’s important to make that distinction clear.”

While Rachel Davies Teka, UK head of advocacy at Transparency International (TI), said: “London has rolled out the red carpet for Russian money for decades.

“We don’t have a problem with legitimate money from Russia but money that is linked to corruption or individuals with very very close ties to the Kremlin.”

There is £283.7m of Russian money invested in property in Kensington and Chelsea, TI research has found, while the City of Westminster is home to £428.3m of Russian cash.

And the City of London has £111.4m compared to Camden’s £165m.

KADM, a coalition of local councillors and activists, says there are over 6,000 properties with foreign-owners, mostly registered to anonymous shell companies based in tax havens.

The launch of Kensington Against Dirty Money. Photo: LondonWorld

At least £1.5bn of Russian-owned UK property belongs to those with Kremlin links or who are accused of corruption, TI has found, with nearly a fifth in Kensington and Chelsea.

“The ruling family of Azerbaijan owns £45m worth of luxury property in Holland Park alone,” KADM says.

“Their overall London property empire of mainly empty houses is worth £420m.

“At the same time we have a housing crisis with more than 3,000 households waiting for a home and 2,100 in temporary accommodation.

“The council is one of the worst performers nationally for meeting housing delivery targets.

“[Kensington has] four of the top 10 most expensive streets in England while one in four kids grow up in poverty.”

Local resident Joe, who asked not to give his last name, said: “It’s become common knowledge… you walk around and see how empty it is. The newsagents, the post offices, the pubs are all very eerily quiet.

“You wonder what’s going on and then you follow the news - and find out the president of Azerbaijan is living right here.”

The 36-year-old who works in broadcasting added: “In the north of the borough there are people who are living on the breadline.

Messages of support for Ukraine. Photo: LondonWorld

“There’s incredible child poverty in one of the most expensive boroughs in the UK. You’ve got this disparity between people who really need money and people with dirty money.”

And Lib Dem council candidate Sam Dodghson told LondonWorld change began in the area after the release of the 1999 hit film Notting Hill, starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant.

“You’ll have homes of multiple occupancy, huge Georgian terraces subdivided into 40 properties and split into tiny cramped accommodation,” he said.

“No light and in awful states of repair. Literally next door you’ll have the exact same house built as part of the same Victorian estate in pristine condition and owned by one family.

“It’ll have five stories with a super-basement. If you’ve got real money, your house is bigger underground than it is upstairs.”

To find out more about the campaign, visit: https://www.kensingtonagainstdirtymoney.com/about