Where there is dosh, high-end architecture is not too far away. Astragal reveals how UK architects are connected to one of the biggest ever data leaks
They have sparked the resignation of the Icelandic prime minster and sent a squirming David Cameron’s approval ratings south of Jeremy Corbyn’s. The Panama Papers – a leak of 11.5 million files from the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca – have caused shockwaves around the world. The fact that there may be legitimate reasons for investing offshore cuts little ice with an austerity-weary public.
As well as boosting the impetus towards greater fairness and transparency in tax rules, the Panama Papers also provide an intriguing insight into the personal finances of the world’s super-rich. As always, where there is dosh, high-end architecture is not too far away. And while there is no evidence that they have used the offshore arrangements to evade or avoid tax, a number of businesspeople named in the papers are connected with companies behind recent building projects in the UK.
In February, a scheme designed by Piercy & Company won planning permission for a scheme to refurbish the famous Camden Lock Market in north London. The scheme has been funded by property development company Market Tech Holdings. Although based in Guernsey, the firm is not named in the Panama Papers. However, major shareholder, Israel-born Teddy Sagi, is listed as the sole shareholder of 16 companies which do appear on the list. He reduced his shareholding in Market Tech Holdings from 87 per cent to 71 per cent last year.
Piercy & Company’s Camden Lock Market
Market Tech Holdings said: ‘Market Tech Holdings notes recent press comment and states that as befits its status as a London Stock Exchange Main List company it is a fully regulated business with high levels of corporate governance and transparency.’
Another Israeli billionaire named in the Panama Papers is Idan Ofer, who donated £25 million to the London Business School in 2013. The cash has been used to fund a Sheppard Robson-designed teaching centre, in the Grade II-listed Old Marylebone Town Hall and library annexe. The new centre, named after Ofer’s shipping magnate father the late Sammy Ofer, is due to open this year.
Sheppard Robson’s London Business School
Sheppard Robson is also connected to another name in the Panama Papers, Indian-born Dutch businessman Rattan Chadha. Chadha is co-founder of the citizenM hotel chain, which opened its first UK facility in Glasgow in 2010 and is due to open one above Tower Hill tube station designed by Sheppard Robson later this year. Construction work also finished recently on a new hotel by the brand in nearby Shoreditch, designed by Ellis Miller. A spokesperson for citizenM said: ‘This is a private matter of Mr Rattan Chadha and of no relevance to citizenM.’
Another hotel chain, Meliá Hotels International, is controlled by Spanish family, the Escarrers, who also turned up in the leaked files. As well as being behind the Foster + Partners-designed ME London Hotel, which opened on the Strand in London in 2013, Meliá Hotels International is also responsible for the new Innside hotel in Manchester, designed by Ian Simpson Architects and Reid Architects. This hotel scheme forms part of the First Street North masterplan site and, as such, is a joint venture between Ask Developments and Manchester City Council. Ask declined to comment.
ME London Hotel by Foster + Partners
Source: Francisco Guerrero
On a smaller scale, Belgrade-born fashion designer Roksanda Ilincic – another name on the list – hired David Adjaye to design the interior of her flagship Mayfair store, which opened in 2014. Ilincic’s dresses, worn by Samantha Cameron, Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton, sell for up to £5,000.
It is doubtful that any of these UK architectural practices were aware of private finance arrangements of the individuals involved in companies who hired them. One consequence of the furore could be that architects begin to ask more questions in future, but Astragal is not holding his breath.