Friday, May 24, 2024 | Last Update : 10:17 PM IST

  Opinion   Columnists  22 Oct 2021  Farrukh Dhondy | Of property and ‘theft’ in today’s Britain: The rise of black money

Farrukh Dhondy | Of property and ‘theft’ in today’s Britain: The rise of black money

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Oct 23, 2021, 1:26 am IST
Updated : Oct 23, 2021, 1:26 am IST

I have, in my short and happy life, been a guest at the London luxury flats, houses and the country estates of Indians and indeed Pakistanis


“O Bachchoo why make excuses for your trance
Indulgence and the drug may yet advance
A grasp of consciousness that sees the world
And perceives the dancer defined by the dance!”

— From The Heyday of Wankhede by Bachchoo

Proudhon’s famous aphorism declares “All property is theft!” In Britain today, a lot of theft has become property. I offer this contention applying a little elasticity to the definition of “theft” -- an elasticity which Proudhon would have endorsed.
It is estimated that 100,000 properties worth billions if not trillions of pounds sterling are owned by Russians, Arabs, Nigerians, Kenyans -- and yes, Indians and Pakistanis and others who have bought real estate with money gained from corruption, bribes, theft from national exchequers and from what we call black money.

I have, in my short and happy life, been a guest at the London luxury flats, houses and the country estates of Indians and indeed Pakistanis. I have enjoyed the hospitality of their “owners” and shan’t be ungrateful by naming them. The question as to how my hosts and hostesses could afford properties evidently worth millions of pounds did, of course, cross my mind. I have my suspicions but absolutely no evidence of these being acquired through the above definitions of “theft”.

For instance, drinking his whisky in the London flat of an Indian arms dealer, I supposed his ability to afford the luxurious property arose from his lucrative trade. Perhaps he proudly bought it in his name. Very many of the owners of these 100,000 (this is only a cautious journalistic estimate) properties are what in India would be called “benami”. They are registered as belonging to some offshore company whose ultimate owners cannot be traced unless some whistle-blower exposes the records, as happened recently in the case of what’s come to be known as the Pandora Papers. These leaked documents reveal how past and present governments of the UK have connived in, encouraged, or at best, done nothing about the purchase of expensive UK property to launder the ill-gotten gains of kleptocrats from around the world.

Before I copy the names of some of these whose ownership has been exposed in the press, allow me, gentle reader, to recall the episode in which a certain convicted serial killer attempted to involve me in just such a money-laundering scheme.

Some years ago, as I recall in detail in my recently published autobiography or life memoir entitled Fragments Against My Ruin (OY! Kithney daffa manna kiya ki yeh self-advertisement iss paper mey nahi chalegi? -- Ed. Sorry yaar, slip of the computer – lekin kitab ki kuchh tho bikri honi chahiyeh Sirji…. fd), I made the acquaintance of Charles Sobhraj.

One early morning he summoned me to a wayside inn on the outskirts of London and, accompanied by two leather-jacketed Belgian gentlemen, led me to the inn’s car park to show me a truck full of antique furniture. Charles said, since he was French and his partners were Belgian and I had a UK passport and bank account, he wanted me to lease a shop in my name so that they could set it up as an antique furniture dealership. They would pay the mortgage and Charles mentioned paying me an unbelievably huge lump sum of money for the use of my name and the facilitation of their enterprise.

I took Charles aside and said it wasn’t possible for any antique furniture trade to yield the kind of money he was offering me. Charles invited me to go up to his room and once there, produced two shiny-papered catalogues with Cyrillic script and photographs of tanks, armoured cars, anti-aircraft guns, mortars and every sort of weapon. I got it. The antique furniture was to be a front for international deals in armaments. The arms would go directly from ex-Soviet dumps in the ex-Soviet countries to the customers -- presumably terrorist groups.

Charles said there would be no arms floating about. I understood. It was to be a channel for the secret arms transactions and laundering the money involved. Did I accept the commission? Would I be writing this if I did?

The Nigerian newspaper, Premium Times, exposed the fact that 137 rich and influential Nigerians are, through the use of offshore companies, owners of UK properties worth around £350 million. The Nigerian minister for aviation between 2010 and 2015, Stella Oduah, acquired a Regent’s Park property for £5.3 million while her annual salary was the equivalent of £80,000. Go figure?

Prime Minister BoJo recently said that the UK was “one of the most imbalanced societies and lopsided economies of all the richer countries”. Right! Have he and Chancellor Rishi Sunak decided to plug this international money-laundering criminality?

Er… has the earth become pyramid-shaped?

No, gentle reader, Hedgie Sunak is instead opening up the UK to further dimensions of money-laundering through his “freeports” scheme.

Some facts: Hedgie’s wife, Akshata Murthy, lent her private equity company Catamaran Ventures UK some spare cash last year -- 2.5 million pounds. Hedgie lent the firm £650,000 before transferring the loan to his wife when BoJo appointed him a minister.

Hedgie has just passed a budget which takes away £1,040 from five and a half million low-income families.

“Imbalanced and lopsided”? Yes, Boris, right on! “A legal shelter for criminals?” No, no, he didn’t go that far.

Tags: black money, farrukh dhondy, farrukh dhondy column