May 26th, 2016
Land Registry: Investigation details
By 38 Degrees team
38 Degrees members recently chipped in to fund an investigation for our Land Registry campaign. Here are the details on how the work was carried out, and its key findings.
Four companies have been named in the media as potential buyers of the Land Registry. The companies are General Atlantic, Hellman and Friedman, OMERS and Advent International. The investigation looked at each of these companies’ accounts to determine subsidiaries and their tax arrangements, by searching UK Companies House, the Orbis database and company registers for Delaware, Massachusetts, California, the Cayman Islands and Jersey.
The websites of the four companies named as buyers were also used to find out which companies they had acquired or had shares in, as well as press releases issued by the companies.
The work was carried out by an investigative journalist.
The investigation reveals
- General Atlantic has several subsidiaries based in the tax haven of Bermuda, according to the Orbis company information database. The parent company, General Atlantic Service Company LLC, is incorporated in the US state of Delaware (as are dozens of its subsidiaries), reducing the amount of transparency (and tax liability).
The company’s portfolio also includes stakes in leading French and German real estate portals, SeLoger.com and Immonet.de – these websites are similar to Zoopla or GumTree. It also has a stake in one of China’s top real estate portals, SouFun.
- Hellman and Friedman’s parent company Hellman & Friedman LLC was incorporated in the low tax jurisdiction of Delaware, even though its office is in California, on the other side of the country. It has also registered numerous subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands, which is a tax haven.
Hellman and Friedman has acquired Edelman Financials, which provides a variety of ‘wealth management’ services, including advice on buying property; and Scout 24, which operates Germany’s number one real estate classifieds website, Immobilienscout24.de.
Hellman and Friedman has invested in Grosvenor Capital Management, which is one of the world’s largest asset management firms. It invests in real estate on behalf of its clients.
- OMERS – a Canadian pension fund – operates several investment arms, including a property development division that uses the offshore jurisdiction of Jersey in the Channel Islands. Even if this does not reduce tax liability, it certainly makes the company’s activities much more opaque. (As a pension fund, OMERS itself is not required to pay tax, however its property development division would be).
OMERS has a real estate arm, Oxford Properties, which is involved in high profile developments such as the Leadenhall “Cheesegrater” skyscraper in the City of London.
The 2014 UK accounts for Oxford Properties list several related parties or companies in which OMERS has an interest. Notably, these related parties include the “Oxford Jersey Holding Company Limited”, which is registered in Jersey, and owed almost a quarter of million pounds to Oxford Properties Management UK Ltd. There is no suggestion of impropriety, but it shows further links between OMERS and offshore tax havens.
- Advent International is a private equity firm. Its parent company is incorporated in Delaware and has dozens of companies registered in the Cayman Islands.