Scots property investor Lopatinsky denies links to Russian security agencies 5

Scots property investor Lopatinsky denies links to Russian security agencies

A British property tycoon with Scottish businesses has denied links to Russia’s security agencies after opposition parties called for a Scottish Government probe, The Ferret can reveal.

Yuri Lopatinsky, originally from Ukraine, was linked to the Russian state agencies by an MP during a January debate in the House of Commons. The businessman reportedly bought up much of Edinburgh’s prestigious Charlotte Square via offshore tax haven companies in the early 2010s.

Lopatinsky currently controls a company headquartered at Charlotte Square, according to Companies House records. Bute House, the First Minister’s official residence, is number six on the square.

Lopatinsky strenuously denied links to Putin’s regime. A spokesperson said Lopatinsky has family members “hiding in bunkers from nightly shelling” in Ukraine and was “heartbroken” by the war.

The businessman had been “misrepresented” in the UK Parliament as Russian due to his “Russian sounding name”. Lopatinsky had not been approached by the UK or Scottish governments, but would be “happy” to engage with them, the spokesperson added.

Lopatisnky does not feature on the UK Government’s sanction list.

Scottish Labour said it was “absolutely incumbent on the Scottish Government to investigate this urgently” and seize any of Lopatinsky’s assets if links to the Russian state were proven. 

“Millions of Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes while thousands of their fellow citizens die at the hands of Vladimir Putin’s war machine,” the party added.

The Scottish Lib Dems said it was “hard to see” why Lopatinsky’s business empire was not on the sanctions list if links to the Kremlin were documented.

The Tax Justice Network echoed the party’s views, but warned that understanding Lopatinsky’s current property ownership would be “stymied by the use of secrecy jurisdictions that allow anonymous ownership and minimal company filings”.

The Scottish Government stressed that it was continually searching for individuals linked to Putin’s regime and would use its powers to ensure that none were able to profit in Scotland.

During a January parliamentary debate at Westminster on the UK Government’s proposed Elections Bill, Labour MP Liam Byrne referred to Lopatinsky. He claimed:

“Information I have seen from well-placed sources in the Kremlin shows that [Mohamed] Amersi [a prominent Conservative donor] is an associate and business partner of people with all sorts of friends, including some with close connections to the SVR [Russia’s foreign intelligence service] and FSB [Russia’s principal security agency and a successor to the KGB]. They include Yuri Lopatinsky…”

Amersi denied any wrongdoing. “This is utter bullshit and drivel,” he told the Daily Mail at the time.

Byrne told The Ferret: “As Britain throws wide its sanctions net, it’s now vital Yuri Lopatinsky explains any and every relationship with Russian intelligence agencies along with any and every connection to a web of Russian linked tycoons”.

He added: “Parliament will be ruthless in demanding our foreign secretary sanctions every single profiteer from Putin’s regime. So now is the time for Mr Lopatinsky to put his cards on the table or face MPs using parliamentary privilege to lay out the full dossiers of what we’ve received about his affairs.”

A spokesperson for Lopatinsky said: “For the avoidance of doubt, Yuriy Lopatynskyy is a British citizen of Ukrainian origin,” said a spokesperson.

“He still has family in Ukraine who are hiding in bunkers from nightly shelling and is heartbroken by the impact of the conflict unfolding in his place of birth.

“He has been misrepresented in Parliament as a ‘Russian’ businessman by politicians, who appear to have done so on the basis of his Russian sounding name. Mr Lopatynskyy vehemently denies all allegations of links to the Russian Government.

“To date Mr Lopatynskyy has not been approached by any government investigation but if the UK or Scottish Government wish to speak to him about the situation in Ukraine, he would be happy to do so.”

Lopatinsky’s alleged Scottish real estate

Lopatinsky’s presence in Scotland’s property and business sectors date back more than a decade. 

Via an investment firm based in the tax haven of Bermuda, Lopatinsky “joined forces with another Bermuda-based firm, Fordell, to snap up two major chunks of Charlotte Square,” The Scotsman reported in 2010. Lopatinsky also led a host of Moscow-based property and finance firms, the article added.

A similar account of Lopatinsky’s monopolisation of Charlotte Square was given in a 2019 Insider article.

In 2013, the Financial Times reported that Fordell was owned by Sopica Global Real Estate Investment. Sopica has many different entities registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands, but Sopica Partners Limited, a dissolved firm of which Lopatinsky was director, was based at a Charlotte Square address.

A different Charlotte Square address was given for Lopatinsky’s named correspondence address at the time.

The Ferret’s 2019 investigation into Edinburgh’s offshore property found that Fordell’s portfolio included 10 properties in Charlotte Square.

We obtained title deeds from Registers of Scotland which show that Fordell, which is now also headquartered in the British Virgin Islands still owns multiple properties in the city.

Loptinsky’s other financial Interests

Media including the Moscow Times and Euromoney reported, in 2001 and 2004 respectively, that Lopatinsky’s First Mercantile Capital Group was then a major shareholder in the Russian media group, Rambler, which began as Russia’s answer to Google.

Rambler is now owned by Sberbank. Both companies have been sanctioned by the west since Russia’s Ukraine invasion. The pension fund for MSPs divested its shares in Sberbank in March after The Ferret revealed that it held shares in the Russian bank.

A 2006 prospectus for the Russian Federation First Mercantile Fund listed on the Bermuda Stock Exchange in 2006 included a biography of its president, Lopatinsky.

Prior to relocating to Moscow, Lopatinsky was with Merrill Lynch in New York, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University, and “was one of the first non-Russian professionals to receive a Broker/Dealer license from the Russian Ministry of Finance,” it said.

Lopatinsky and several of his companies, including Sopica, were included in the 2017 Paradise Papers offshore data leak.

We reported in February 2019 that Lopatinsky controlled the majority of the Scottish Salmon Company (SCC) before it was sold later that year. The campaign group Scottish Salmon Watch first highlighted Lopatinsky’s links to the Scottish salmon farming industry in 2019.

The SCC initially received “£30 million [of] initial investment provided through the Lopatinsky-backed private equity firm, Northern Link,” according to a 2012 report in The Scotsman. Northern Link is also registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Companies House records show that Yuri Lopatinsky – using the spelling Yuriy Lopatynskyy – has been the director of several Scottish companies that are now dissolved. His nationality was recorded as British, except for Sopica Partners Limited, where it was listed as Ukrainian.

The only active UK company he directs is the London-registered alcohol seller Château De La Cômbe, which shares a name with a French vineyard.

Lopatinsky’s fellow Château De La Cômbe director is Alexandra Lopatinsky, who has several active companies registered in Scotland, most of which are Charlotte Square-based. Her correspondence address is listed at a Charlotte Square address.

Other former fellow directors, who share the same surname with Lopatinsky, have companies registered in Charlotte Square and at a property on Kings Avenue, London – the registered address of swathes of different firms.

Another former director of Château De La Cômbe also directs a company called Scott’s Real Estate. The latter firm now owns a Charlotte Square property.

Alexandra Lopatinsky is also listed as the sole director of a company called Farm Originals, while Yuri Lopatinsky is named as the only person of significant control. This information about the company’s personnel was reiterated in a December 2021 Companies House filing.

A Charlotte Square address was named as both the registered address for Farm Originals and as the correspondence address for Yuri Lopatinsky.

A Farm Originals Instagram account includes Château De La Cômbe as one of the two accounts it follows. Alex Cobham of the Tax Justice Network highlighted that a company named LLF Farm Originals appears on the Luxembourg register of companies.

A December 2017 Companies House filing for Farm Originals listed Luxembourg – another tax haven – as the country where Lopatinsky was “usually resident”.

Lopatinsky is also registered as the beneficial owner of the Luxembourg firm, LLF Financial S.A. The account was last updated on 23 March, Cobham added.

Calls for ‘urgent’ government Lopatinsky probe

On 28 February, Scottish Labour’s Paul Sweeney MSP tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling on the Scottish Government to investigate and seize the assets of those in Scotland with links to the Kremlin.

“That call was supported by the Scottish Government and I believe a review of this is underway,” he said.

Lopatinsky has “apparent links to the Kremlin” and “owns a swathe of properties in Charlotte Square, a matter of metres from the First Minister’s official residence, via a company based in an offshore tax haven.”

“It is absolutely incumbent on the Scottish Government to investigate this urgently, and if these links are proven to be conclusive they should be seizing these assets.”

Sweeney said Scotland cannot allow anyone with apparent close links to the Kremlin “to operate and profit with impunity”. He added: “We must do all we can to ensure that those who appear to be linked to that regime are rooted out of Scotland’s economy.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats echoed Sweeney’s point. Scotland “needs to do its bit to squeeze Putin’s regime and the oligarchs who have profited from it,” said Willie Rennie MSP, the party’s economy spokesperson.

“If there are documented connections between Mr Lopatinsky and Russian intelligence services, it is hard to see why his business empire including these Edinburgh properties are not on the sanctions list. Scotland needs to be much more transparent about who owns what.”

‘Anonymous wealth vehicles’ undermining sanctions

The Tax Justice Network said that if Lopatinsky’s links to the Russian regime were substantiated, “there is at the very least a clear public interest in understanding the current status of his apparently once-substantial holdings of Scottish property.”

“Once again, however, that understanding is stymied by the use of secrecy jurisdictions that allow anonymous ownership and minimal company filings – most egregiously here, the British Virgin Islands,” said Alex Cobham, chief executive.

He highlighted that the British overseas territory is currently under formal investigation by the UK government over corruption concerns.

“The tolerance for anonymous wealth vehicles undermines not only the scope for sanctions, but also national systems of tax and regulation – including of course, the much-abused Scottish Limited Partnerships,” added Cobham.

“It is well past time that this tolerance was ended, and that entirely open access, public registers were established for all property, companies, trusts, partnerships and other legal vehicles.”

The Scottish Government stressed that it was still checking every person named on UK and EU Russian sanctions lists, as well as “any individuals not currently on those lists coming to our attention, to ensure that they are not in receipt of any public funds in Scotland.”

“We will take any action we can within our current powers to ensure that those linked to the Putin regime do not use Scotland as a base for their assets,” a spokesperson said.

The UK Economic Crime Bill will make legitimate business more transparent – so it is harder for those who have gained wealth unlawfully or illegitimately to make use of that wealth in Scotland or the UK.”

Header image credit: Mike Shaw

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