One of London’s best known high-end estate agents, Gary Hersham, says corruption crackdowns in this country and overseas may be deterring Russians and Chinese from buying trophy properties in the capital.
In an interview in the Financial Times, Hersham - who runs the family agency Beauchamp Estates in Mayfair - says the atmosphere towards wealthy foreign buyers in London has changed in recent times.
“There is growing criticism that London property has become a safe-deposit box for corrupt autocrats and shady businesspeople from around the world — and that banks, lawyers and property companies such as Beauchamp may be abetting their abuse of it” he says in the interview, which is online but behind the FT’s paywall.
He says the issue has been worsened by the alleged hold-up on granting a UK visa to Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club, who has since taken Israeli citizenship.
“This news about Roman Abramovich is much worse than you understand. If you understand that Roman Abramovich is probably as white and as clear and as straightforward as you’re going to get in terms of that circle, how many others are going to say: ‘If they can do it to him, they can do it to me’” insists Hersham.
He insists that the appeal of London to the global uber-rich is “dissipating” and that he is now longer taking 20 calls a week from wealthy Russians looking to buy in London.
Instead, he tells the FT he now sees two types of Russian seller - the first is squeezed by western sanctions and thus needs to realise their assets; the second is someone who wants to leave London before authorities ask for details of their wealth.
The Chinese - who some believe may represent the next nation to dominate the high-end of the prime central London market - are reluctant to step in because of a growing anti-corruption culture in their own country, admits Hersham.
He concludes his interview by describing how he cut deals with some of the world’s wealthiest buyers, saying: “People’s concept of the super-rich is that they’re not normal. The truth is they’re absolutely normal. And when you’ve got that lack of fear, that lack of the jitters when you go see them, you can close deals with them.”