FIRST came the mighty “pubcos” to spoil Britain’s boozers (Eyes passim ad nauseam); now it’s the turn of offshore property developers to buy them up and shut them down.
A recent planning application to demolish the Gladstone Arms, a much-loved pub and music venue in Southwark, south London, and build a ten-storey block of luxury flats in its place has provoked hundreds of objections from locals. The plans were lodged by Sartorio Properties Ltd, while Land Registry title deeds show that the pub was acquired last October by Isle of Man company Sartorio Ltd, part of the Golfrate property group.
Worldwide company records collated by the openCorporates website reveal a further 77 companies registered at the same Isle of Man offices, run by law firm Andco Corporates Services Ltd, which between them hold titles to approximately 375 properties, mostly in London. Offshore companies are generally not taxed on gains they make on property. The partners in Andco act as directors of the property-owning companies.
Planning documents reveal that many of the Manx companies have identifiable links to Golfrate. This outfit was set up in 1991 Asif Aziz, a publicity-shy property magnate, and is reported to own property worth £2bn. Aziz first hit the headlines in 2005 when his firm acquired the London Trocadero, the Baroque-style arcade on Piccadilly Circus, for £212m. This turns out to have been another offshore deal, through a company called London Trocadero Ltd, also registered to the Isle of Man offices of Andco.
Manx for nothing…
More recently, in 2014, Golfrate acquired 11 pubs in London from Punch Taverns, bringing the number of pubs in its portfolio to “more than 150”, according to industry mag Estates Gazette. Predictably, many of these have closed under Golfrate’s ownership while plans for luxury flats go through.
Other casualties are: the White Swan in Charlton Village, acquired through Isle of Man company Mendoza Ltd in April for £900,000, with the current managers reportedly thrown out by bailiffs in June while the locks were changed; Two8Six, the only gay club in Lewisham at the time, acquired via Mendoza in 2012 and promptly closed; the Grosvenor Arms, a pub and music venue in Lambeth, acquired by Isle of Man firm Hamna Wakaf Ltd in 2013 and closed down last August; the Beehive, another lively Lambeth local, acquired through Mendoza Ltd in 2012 and closed last September. The Sovereign, a pub in Camden, was acquired by Mendoza Ltd in 2012 and closed in 2013. Among the other pubs to have closed under the ownership of Mendoza Ltd include The Duke of Wellington in Spitalfields, the Peacock in Battersea and the Bacchus in Hoxton.
A deal turned sour
Not much is known about Asif Aziz, although a little emerged in parliament when Siobhain McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, was campaigning to force Golfrate to sell for redevelopment Lyons Tower, a monstrous 17-storey office block in Colliers Wood: “[Aziz] was born in Malawi,” she told parliament in 2011, “and his fortune is thought to have been made in Angola. Aged 16, he is said to have turned up in London one day, out of nowhere, to buy property in an auction. He has been accumulating more and more property ever since.”
Aziz is reported to have owned businesses in South America as well as a food trading operation in Angola, which was sold in 2005 to members of the Lebanese Tajideen family. That deal turned sour, however, and in 2010 the new owners sued Aziz in the high court over claims that Aziz had exaggerated the value of the companies and falsified a series of expense claims. In one email Aziz asked his chief accountant: “Will they check each figure - can we not bullshit the numbers another way? Food for thought.”
No food – or drink – at many of London’s best-loved boozers, though, now that the offshore property men have their hands on them.