Documents reveal UAE president owns multibillion-pound property portfolio spanning London’s most expensive neighbourhoods
→Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is president of the United Arab Emirates – and one of London's richest landlords
The row of 1960s-built houses with untidy gardens on a quiet cul-de-sac near Richmond upon Thames appears to have little in common with Ecuador’s red-brick embassy in Knightsbridge, where Julian Assange spent seven years in hiding, just across the road from Harrods.
The unassuming suburban dwellings also have little in common with the site where the Queen was born in central London, or Sexy Fish, a seafood restaurant where diners sit among Damien Hirst mermaid sculptures.
The properties, however, all form part of a secretive £5.5bn real estate empire owned by one of the world’s wealthiest heads of state, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the United Arab Emirates and emir of Abu Dhabi.
For all of its conspicuous addresses, the portfolio’s ownership has been shrouded in secrecy for decades. “It was created in a subterranean way through stealth-like deals, quietly put together over many years,” said a source familiar with Khalifa’s business dealings.
Now, leaked documents, court filings and analysis of public records have enabled the Guardian to map Khalifa’s property holdings in the UK, revealing how the oil-rich nation’s president became a major landlord in London. Khalifa’s London property empire appears to surpass even that of the Duke of Westminster, the 29-year-old billionaire aristocrat who owns swathes of the city.
Khalifa’s personal property portfolio, which spans some of London’s most expensive neighbourhoods, is largely comprised of “super prime” commercial and residential properties. Flats in one of the portfolio’s luxury blocks are on the market for about £20m each.
- A prestigious Grade*II-listed mid-century building, formerly the offices of Time Life publishing company, with four Henry Moore statues built into its facade. Today, the site includes the London flagship store of Parisian luxury fashion house Hermès.
- A huge office block that stretches along the east side of Berkeley Square. The site includes a Ferrari and Bentley dealership and glitzy restaurants popular with celebrities, such as Sexy Fish, where the menu includes a fillet of Japanese wagyu steak for £105 and 30g of caviar for £210.
- A nine-storey luxury apartment block designed by the prominent British architect Sir David Chipperfield. Flats in the sleek development, which includes a 24-hour concierge service and a 25m indoor swimming pool, are currently on the market for between £18m and £26m.
- The red-brick residential block close to Harrods in Knightsbridge houses Ecuador’s embassy, where the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, spent seven years in hiding. Since the late 1970s, the UAE’s royal family has bought the leasehold of multiple flats at the site. In 2018, a company connected to Sheikh Khalifa acquired the freehold of the entire property.
The documents highlight how it is possible in the UK for a deep-pocketed investor such as Khalifa to build up, largely undetected, a sprawling property portfolio with about 1,000 tenants – thanks to a complex structure of shell companies in offshore havens administered by some of London’s top law firms.
Khalifa’s UK property interests first came to light in 2016 when the Guardian’s reporting on the Panama Papers provided a glimpse into how the UAE’s president had secretly acquired dozens of central London properties worth more than £1.2bn.
However, documents seen by the Guardian suggest Khalifa’s holdings are worth almost five times that. In 2005 alone the sheikh spent £1bn on five properties, according to court filings. By 2015, the portfolio had swelled in value to £5.5bn with annual rental income of £160m.
Analysis of Land Registry data suggests Khalifa’s commercial and private property portfolio includes about 170 properties, ranging from a secluded mansion near Richmond Park to multiple high-end London office blocks occupied by hedge funds and investment banks.
There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing and owning UK property through offshore companies is perfectly legal. But the UK government has committed to introducing a register of overseas companies owning UK properties to make the market more transparent and combat corruption.
Khalifa did not respond to the Guardian’s repeated requests for comment.
The sheikh’s properties are now at the heart of a high court dispute that has thrown his UK interests into sharp relief. Earlier this year, the court heard claims the UAE president had installed tanks filled with Evian drinking water at his 18th-century mansion near Windsor. But details of his lifestyle have been upstaged by claims that since a stroke in 2014, Khalifa, who was re-elected as UAE president in 2019, has been “mentally incapacitated” – claims his lawyers have denied.
Lawyers for his former property managers, Lancer, claim the legal case, concerning the approval of certain payments, has been brought as Khalifa’s family members compete for control of his assets. Lancer’s lawyers cited a document they claim shows control of his assets was secretly handed over to a special committee in 2015.
The document, first reported by the investigative website the Sarawak Report and seen by the Guardian, appears to install Khalifa’s half-brother Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan as the committee’s chairman, suggesting some of London’s prime real estate is now in the hands of the owner of Manchester City football club. Lawyers acting for Khalifa have denied he has “surrendered control of his assets”.
The notarised document purports to be signed by Khalifa but the signature appears to belong to his brother Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, de facto leader of the UAE and one of the most powerful figures in the Middle East.
- The building is home to Annabel’s, the exclusive nightclub and so-called “celebrity playground” owned by the millionaire restaurateur Richard Caring, where membership fees start at about £3,000. Sheikh Khalifa owns the freehold to many of the buildings surrounding Berkeley Square.
- The building serves as the home of Holbein Anstalt, the secretive Liechtensteinian company that manages Sheikh Khalifa and the UAE’s ruling Al Nahyan family’s property interests. The building is located just off Park Lane and overlooks the 5-star Dorchester Hotel.
- A high-end office block bought by Sheikh Khalifa along with surrounding buildings and land. The building is home to the global commodities company Glencore and the site includes an Asian and Italian restaurant, Novikov, popular with wealthy Russian diners.
- LocationHam, Richmond
- A string of four detached 1960s-built homes on a quiet cul-de-sac close to a mansion owned by Sheikh Khalifa near Richmond Park. The properties are understood to be have been acquired for staff working at the large property nearby.