Major financial backers of the Conservative Party – including personal donors to Boris Johnson – own lucrative properties across Scotland through secretive companies registered in tax havens.
Their ownership of Scottish property has been revealed by an exclusive Ferret analysis of a new British register introduced after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It has forced many companies based in tax havens, and which own UK property, to reveal their true, “beneficial”, owners for the first time.
We are revealing our findings over the next three days as part of a major new series – Scotland’s Secret Owners.
Scottish properties owned by six Tory donors – who have together given the party millions of pounds – include shooting estates, the site of a major wind farm, office blocks and a city centre car park.
In total their properties are worth over £53m. They are all owned through previously anonymous companies registered in offshore ‘secrecy jurisdictions’ like Jersey and the British Virgin Islands.
Owning properties through companies based in tax havens is legal and there are legitimate reasons for holding assets through them.
But critics also say offshore companies lack transparency and claimed the Tory donors could “wield undue influence over politicians and policy designed to clamp down on” tax havens. One Labour MSP said The Ferret’s findings showed the “urgent need for a new tax on the wealth, property and assets of the richest”.
All the individuals named in this story have been asked to comment. Those who chose to do so insisted that they had acted legally throughout.
Arora is one of the named owners of a holding company registered in Jersey which owns ten retail properties including a number of B&M stores. His properties have a combined value of over £38m.
Laidlaw, who made his wealth in the corporate events industry, donated over £3.1m to the Conservatives between 2001 and 2007. This included giving £25,000 to Boris Johnson while he was running to be London mayor.
Hands has funded the Tories in the past, and the party’s former leader, William Hague, was best man at his wedding. However in recent years he has been critical of the party’s handling of Brexit – which he claimed was about the people at the top paying “a lot less tax” – as well as its policy on onshore wind farms.
So-called Wall Street investing ‘legend’ Louis Bacon is the named beneficiary of a Jersey company which owns the Dewar Estate, south east of Edinburgh, as well as Raeshaw Estate, near Galashiels.
Billionaire real estate and technology mogul, Simon Reuben, is one of the owners of a firm set up in the British Virgin Islands which owns King Street car park in Glasgow's Merchant City. It is valued at nearly £8m.
A company which Reuben and his brother David control – Investors in Private Capital Ltd – has handed cash donations to the Tories worth over £1.2m since 2008. The firm also gave Boris Johnson a year’s worth of access to office space in London worth over £85,000, the day after Liz Truss took over from him as Prime Minister.
A representative of the Reuben Brothers told The Ferret that the donations were “perfectly legal” and the decision to donate was made by all the directors of Investors in Private Capital Ltd, not just the Reubens.
Venture capitalist Jon Moulton owns 335 hectares of land around Cauld Law in Dumfries and Galloway through a company registered in Guernsey. The land is worth £2.8m.
Moulton gave just over £300k to the Conservatives between 2004 and 2011. He also donated £100k to Scottish-born Tory MP, Liam Fox, in 2006 and 2007, as well as £10,000 to the Leave campaign in the run up to the Brexit referendum.
Moulton said he had been a resident of Guernsey for 12 years and had not voted in UK elections since he moved. He added that holding Cauld Law through a Guernsey firm was not aimed at keeping his ownership of the property a secret.
Scottish Labour MSP, Mercedes Villalba, claimed that while in power, “the Tories have actively promoted the interests of the super rich, while inflicting more than a decade of austerity on hard pressed families”.
She added: “It’s outrageous that so much wealth is concentrated in so few hands.
“These latest findings demonstrate the urgent need for a new tax on the wealth, property and assets of the richest.
“That ‘Wealth Tax’ must be used to fund universal public services and inflation busting pay rises for key workers.”
Tom Brake, a former Liberal Democrat MP and director of the campaign group, Unlock Democracy, said that the UK needed to “get big money out of politics” and should introduce a £5,000 annual cap on donations.
Brake added that “large party donors based in tax havens” could be “depriving services of badly needed investment” and wielding “undue influence over politicians and policy designed to clamp down on tax avoidance”.
Craig Dalzell, head of policy and research at the think tank, Common Weal, said The Ferret’s findings showed the degree to which “both British politics and large sections of Britain itself has been bought by very rich people with sometimes very questionable financial track records”.
Dalzell added: “Scotland in particular should also consider some of the assets disclosed in this report and where the powers Scotland has over land and wealth taxes can be used to ensure that these assets are held for the benefit of all of us, not just a few and the few they choose to support.”
A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “The Conservative Party only accepts donations from permissible sources, namely individuals registered on the UK’s electoral roll or UK registered companies. Donations are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, openly published by them, and comply fully with the law.”
Boris Johnson was asked to comment.
This story was corrected at 10:25 on 14th June 2023 to note that it is King Street car park -- not the St Enoch centre car park -- that is owned by Simon Reuben.
Main image: Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Last day. Credit: Number 10
Scotland’s secret owners is a Ferret investigation exclusively produced in partnership with The Herald. The Ferret is a media-coop, which works with its members to produce investigations in the public interest. Sign up to our newsletter to find out more or become a member at theferret.scot/subscribe