Monday, June 04, 2012

The Prince, the Property, and the Petroleum profiteer

"SOUTH YORK", as Duke's delapidated mansion was nicknamed by 'Dallas' fans, comparing it to Southfork, before the council considered it might do for homeless. And below, Andrew discussing Kazakh affairs with friend Goga Ashkenazi, not a gold-digger in any sense, though she has done well in precious minerals.

IT could not be allowed to distract from the Queen's Royal Jubilee which we are all officially supposed to enjoy, and whether we like it or not have all had to pay for, but another member of her family, second son Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, is not for the first time finding his affairs coming under scrutiny.

This was the Daily Mail on May 28:

"A controversial deal in which the Duke of York’s marital home was sold for £3million more than its asking price is being examined by two international money-laundering investigations, it was claimed yesterday.
Prosecutors in Italy and Switzerland are probing how Sunninghill Park, a wedding gift from the Queen to her second son, was bought by an offshore trust belonging to a billionaire Kazakh tycoon.
They are examining whether bribes allegedly paid from Italian companies to the Kazakh regime could have been used to fund the Sunninghill sale, including a ‘network of personal and business relationships’ suspected of involvement in ‘international corruption’, according to a Sunday newspaper".
At a time when many people have been worried about property prices, and many more are worried whether they can keep a roof over their heads, Prince Andrew too has had his worries, such as whether to spend any money on doing up the 12-bedroom mansion in Berkshire which he acquired for nothing and has not lived in for the past ten years.

Sunninghill Park, originally part of Windsor Forest, passed through various hands before a substantial Georgian house was built there. During the war it served as headquarters of the American Ninth Air Force from November 1943 to September 1944. The Crown Estate Commissioners purchased the property in 1945, and made the main house available to the then Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) and her future husband Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, for after their marriage in November 1947. But the house burned down on 30 August 1947 before they could occupy it, so they rented Windlesham Moor instead. In the mid-1960s the site was considered for a new home for Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, but this did not happen.

In 1988 the walled garden of some 5 acres was purchased from the Crown Estate Commissioners on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II. The following year construction began on a two-storey red brick house to be the home of the Duke and Duchess of York. The architect responsible was Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith, Balmoral Estate Architect and Professor and Head of the Department of Architecture at Heriot-Watt University. Construction was completed in 1990.

The house has six reception rooms, 12 bedrooms, and 12 bathrooms, and compares in size to the larger country houses built since the Second World War. Sunninghill Park was the first newly-built royal home since Bagshot Park was built in 1879 for the Duke of Connaught. In the tabloid press the home was often referred to as 'SouthYork' a play on words for the 'Southfork' estate on the popular 1980s soap opera Dallas.

The nearest the pile came to Dallas were the times that Fergie, the Duchess of York, spent with Texan billionaire Steve Wyatt there, before and after her divorce.

Until 2004, the Duke of York and his former wife shared the family’s home, Sunninghill Park. That same year, the Duke moved to the refurbished Royal Lodge, previously the home of his grandmother, who resided there until her death in 2002. In 2007, the Duchess rented Dolphin House, and became next door neighbours with her ex-husband. He moved in 2004, following refurbishment of Royal Lodge, funded by taking out a mortgage on Sunninghill Park. HM Land Registry records show that the house was sold for £15 million in 2007, £3 million over the asking price, to an offshore trust in the British Virgin Islands. (Wikipedia)

Behind this stood Timur Kulibayev, the billionaire son-in-law of Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who met Prince Andrew several times during the royal’s role as the UK’s trade envoy.

Two years ago the Daily Mirror reported:

Exclusive: Prince Andrew's £15 million former royal residence could be seized and used for the homeless

Sunninghill Park - the home given to the couple as a wedding present by the Queen in 1986 - has gone to rack and ruin since the Duke of York sold it two years ago to a mysterious Kazakh billionaire for £15million.

Housing officers at Bracknell Forest Borough Council want to talk to the owner, who has never moved in, before the mansion crumbles any further. The council confirmed it is considering using its powers to seize the 12-bedroom home - set in 665 acres of Berkshire countryside - and use it for the homeless.

There have already been several attempted break-ins and neighbours fear squatters might claim the sprawling property for themselves.

It is said the prince's real profit on the deal was more like £7 million, because the house's state meant it was not worth the asking price.

"At the time of the 2007 deal there was speculation that it was a favour to the Duke because of his close relationship with Kazakhstan – rumours fuelled by the fact that the 12-bedroom mansion has stood empty since the sale and is apparently derelict.

The deal was brokered by socialite Goga Ashkenazi, who has claimed that the Duke asked Mr Kulibayev for £15million and that he immediately agreed, adding it was ‘like any property deal between friends’.

But £6million allegedly came from Hong Kong-registered Enviro Pacific Investments, an oil and gas company that charges multi-million-pound fees to businesses seeking energy contracts in Kazakhstan."

Read more:

An indictment lodged with a court in Milan earlier this month accused several Italian companies of paying bribes to the Kazakh regime, including Mr Kulibayev, who is alleged to have received £12.8million.

In 2010, Swiss prosecutors launched an investigation into allegations that Mr Kulibayev used Swiss banks to launder the proceeds of fraud. He vehemently denies claims that he misappropriated millions of pounds in his former job, running Kazakhstan’s state-owned oil industry between 2000 and 2005.

The investigation is expected to include a £115,000 business meeting between Miss Ashkenazi and Kazakh oil executives at a Thai beach resort in 2007, when they were said to have discussed the Sunninghill purchase.

Miss Ashkenazi did not respond to requests for comment. Buckingham Palace said: ‘This was a private sale between two trusts. There was never any impropriety on the part of the Duke of York, any suggestions of which are false.’

Oxford-educated Ms.Ashkenazi with her useful intimate friends in Britain and Kazakhstan did very well dealing in Kazakhstan gold shares and has bought a Paris fashion house. Prince Andrew was able to introduce her to the Queen at Ascot.

Meanwhile in Kazakhstan the government has been cracking down on workers who went on strike last year for several months, demanding back pay, but also protesting lack of public investment in developing their towns, and terror against trade unionists. There were violent clashes with riot police. The workers demand to know where profits from their industry went, and say it should be renationalised.

I dare say Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev might be able to give them some more idea on where the money went when he gets home from attending the Royal Jubilee at Buckingham Palace.

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