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Londongrad: Why Russian Oligarchs Fell In Love With Britain’s Capital

Jul 8, 2022
Weird World
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23
minutes

Since the collapse of the USSR, London has become the city of choice for Russian oligarchs.

In this episode, we'll explore how the UK's capital welcomed Russian money and why London became nicknamed "Londongrad".

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Russian oligarchs in London.

[00:00:27] It’s a story of extreme wealth, of greed and hypocrisy, of globalisation, of the law, of politics, of the media, and of East meets West.

[00:00:38] It’s also a story that was, until very recently, conveniently not talked about very much.

[00:00:44] But the invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022 put a change to that, with British politicians finally admitting that Britain’s capital had become a safe haven for Russian money linked to the Kremlin.

[00:00:58] So that is what we’ll be talking about today, how and why did Russian oligarchs fall in love with London, and what does the future hold for the city some had come to call “Londongrad”.

[00:01:11] OK then, Russian oligarchs in London.

[00:01:17] On July 1st of 2003 it was announced in the British press that a Russian called Roman Abramovich had bought Chelsea football club for £140 million.

[00:01:29] Not many Chelsea fans had heard of this man before, but they didn’t complain as he poured hundreds of millions of pounds into the club, turning it into a top-tier team that has won dozens of trophies.

[00:01:44] Abramovich became an increasingly known figure in the British media. He would be photographed at influential society events, like Wimbledon, and stars like Paul McCartney and Leonardo Di Caprio would be seen at his parties. 

[00:01:59] He snapped up properties at London’s fanciest addresses, including a £90 million house that used to be the Soviet Embassy.

[00:02:09] Roman Abramovich might have been the first high profile Russian businessman that people in Britain were introduced to, but he was far from the only one.

[00:02:20] London is now called home by thousands of wealthy Russians, and by “wealthy”, I do not mean someone with a high salary who sometimes goes on nice holidays and eats at nice restaurants from time to time.

[00:02:34] I mean a different level of “wealthy”. 

[00:02:37] A level of wealth which involves buying multi-million dollar yachts, summer houses in the south of France, fine art, chauffeured limousines, helicopters, and a fleet of personal assistants waiting on your every request.

[00:02:51] A level of wealth that is, when possessed by a Russian businessman, normally associated with one word: oligarch.

[00:03:01] Now, you no doubt don’t need me to tell you what an oligarch is.

[00:03:05] The term was first used by Aristotle, but in recent years it has come to be associated with a small group of men who amassed huge fortunes after the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent deregulation of the Russian economy.

[00:03:22] Long story short, as state assets were privatised, they were sold off to private individuals at a very low price, allowing the people who managed to control these assets to acquire vast wealth at a tiny cost.

[00:03:37] Abramovich was one of these men.

[00:03:40] But he is far from the only oligarch to have called London home.

[00:03:45] Russian oligarchs have snapped up, they have bought some of London’s most desirable properties, sent their children to Britain’s most exclusive private schools, listed their companies on London’s stock exchange, bought fine art at London’s exclusive art galleries, bought football clubs and made London their second home.

[00:04:08] So much so that the press started to nickname London “Londongrad”, or “Moscow on Thames”.

[00:04:16] The question you may have is…why?

[00:04:19] Why London, why not Paris, Rome, Berlin, Madrid, New York, or any other world city?

[00:04:27] Well, London certainly has lots to offer from a cultural and entertainment point of view. Shops, theatres, good restaurants, bars, and so on.

[00:04:37] There are also plenty of other very wealthy and influential people who you can become friends with, so you can feel at home as a billionaire.

[00:04:47] There’s also the very practical reason that London isn’t so far from Moscow - it’s a mere three and a half hour flight, which if you consider that you’ll be going in a private jet so you don’t have to worry about tedious things like waiting around to board the aeroplane, it’s no distance at all.

[00:05:06] But these are all relatively trivial, or unimportant things. 

[00:05:11] You can find these in Rome, Paris or Berlin, so what’s special about London?

[00:05:19] Well, two things in particular.

[00:05:21] The legal system, and the financial system.

[00:05:26] Let’s talk about the law first, and we are going to focus on two areas of the law. 

[00:05:32] Its strength, and a particular aspect of the law called “libel”, which makes it attractive to oligarchs.

[00:05:40] First, the strength of English law. The UK is a politically stable country with a strong legal systems. English law is frequently used by countries outside the UK as an example of a strong and sound legal system.

[00:05:56] This makes it a good place to consider as a second home and as a space to park or store large amounts of money, because, as long as you stay within the law in the UK, the British state is not going to try to steal your house or your money. 

[00:06:14] Indeed, what better place to put your money than in a large house in the middle of a European capital city, where it will be protected by the strong rule of law?

[00:06:24] You might be listening to this and thinking, “well of course a European country isn’t going to try to steal your money”, but to a Russian oligarch, this wasn’t obvious at all.

[00:06:34] Oligarchs like Abramovich had seen first-hand how the fortunes of other oligarchs, other men just like them, had been taken back by the Russian state.

[00:06:45] This was perhaps most vividly and grotesquely illustrated by the fate of one oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who openly challenged Vladiminir Putin. 

[00:06:56] You might remember seeing pictures of his trial

[00:06:59] As a defendant, he was placed in a cage – not an ordinary cage, but a big one which made him look like a caged and deranged animal. 

[00:07:10] Khodorkovsky made the error of standing up to his president, and he paid the price. 

[00:07:16] He was found guilty of corruption, was put in jail for 10 years and then expelled from Russia. 

[00:07:23] The message to the oligarchs was clear - everything you have is thanks to the Russian state, and it can be taken away just as quickly as it was given.

[00:07:34] So, the appeal of a legal system that isn’t going to take your money and property from you was clear.

[00:07:41] Now, the second aspect of English law that was particularly important to Russian oligarchs is to do with something called “libel”.

[00:07:50] Essentially, what this means is that if a journalist or author writes something about me that I don't think is true or that presents me in a bad light, I can sue them, I can take them to court for an almost limitless amount of money.

[00:08:06] And the English system is particularly favourable to people with lots of money to pay expensive lawyers.

[00:08:14] Let me explain this further because it is an important element of London's attractiveness to people like oligarchs.

[00:08:22] If, for example, a journalist researches and aims to publish a book exposing the corruption of a powerful person, whether an oligarch or a president, the English legal system and the law surrounding libel means that the person who has been accused of the crimes has only to show that he or she has had harm caused to them as a result of what has been said. 

[00:08:48] The defendant, the person who wrote these things, has to prove that what he or she has written is true, and evidently when it comes to writing about the behaviour of anyone in a position of power, being able to prove without a doubt that something has happened is not easy. 

[00:09:07] This system has been used by oligarchs in order to stop important pieces of investigative journalism being published. 

[00:09:14] There was a book by an author called Karen Dawisha called "Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?”, which was initially rejected by British publishers because it was too risky to publish, and was only taken on by American publishers.

[00:09:31] For a journalist or a publisher, if they are accused of libel by an oligarch it becomes very expensive to fight the case even if what they know they published is true. 

[00:09:43] So these articles and books simply aren’t published, which results in London, and the UK in general, being a place where the rich and powerful know that they can be safe from too many investigative journalists prying into their business.

[00:09:59] Now, the second reason for the attractiveness of London was for its hub as a financial centre.

[00:10:07] Starting really in the 1970s and 1980s, London became a global financial hub. Hundreds of billions of dollars pass through London’s banks every day, and with this growth in the amount of money flowing around came a growth in all of the other kinds of associated services: lawyers, accountants, public relations, private bankers and so on.

[00:10:31] If you need to move a lot of money around, having a small army of bankers, lawyers and accountants evidently comes in handy.

[00:10:40] What’s more, the UK has very loose laws relating to company ownership, which means hiding your money and assets from prying eyes is very easy to do in the UK.

[00:10:54] In practical terms, it’s very easy to set up a company. 

[00:10:58] In fact, anyone can do it, you don’t need to send in any documents, it takes just a few minutes and it costs £12 - under $15. If you don’t believe me, just try it - you could have set up a full UK company in less than the time you’ve been listening to this episode.

[00:11:17] UK law is also very happy for companies to be owned by other companies, often based in former British colonies or territories - places like Jersey, the Cayman Islands or Malta.

[00:11:30] These companies are then, in turn, owned by other companies, meaning that there is a long and complicated web of ownership and it is very hard to figure out who actually owns anything.

[00:11:43] And this is a wonderful system if you are trying to move money around the world and buy things without people actually knowing it is you who is buying them.

[00:11:55] UK law allows “companies” to buy things like houses and property, so that £90 million house I mentioned earlier that was bought by Roman Abramovich, I should say “reportedly”, because it was actually bought by another company which is reportedly controlled by Roman Abramovich.

[00:12:14] Indeed, you can go to these ultra-expensive areas of London - Mayfair and Knightsbridge - and if you were to look at who actually bought the houses there, the houses that were lived in by billionaires and multibillionaires, almost all of them would theoretically be owned by obscure companies that might be themselves owned by other companies in the Cayman Islands or Bermuda. 

[00:12:37] You see where we are going here. The UK legal and financial system means it is very easy not only to disguise ownership of what you have, but it also makes it very hard for someone to get their hands on it even if they wanted to.

[00:12:54] This is one of the problems that the UK government faced when it finally decided to sanction Russian oligarchs in March of 2022. 

[00:13:04] We’ll get onto that in a minute, but first it’s important to highlight two additional factors about the UK's attraction for oligarchs. The first is a practical factor.

[00:13:16] You might think that the UK is a difficult country to immigrate to, and that it is hard and complicated to get a British passport.

[00:13:25] It is for most people, but it isn’t if you have enough money. 

[00:13:30] And by enough, I mean tens or hundreds of millions of pounds.

[00:13:34] See, while countries like St Kitts, Cyprus or Malta might be better known as countries that sell their passports, the UK will quite happily give you what it calls a “Tier 1” visa, otherwise known as a “golden visa”.

[00:13:50] It’s called a “golden” visa because, as you might have guessed, you need a lot of money to get one.

[00:13:57] Specifically, if you invested at least £2 million you could get residency in the UK, and the more you invested, the quicker your application for “permanent residency” would be processed.

[00:14:11] £2 million might be out of reach for most people, but it was pocket change for an oligarch, and between 2008 when the scheme was launched and 2020 when it was suspended due to the pandemic, 2,581 of these visas were issued to wealthy Russians.

[00:14:31] Indeed, paying £2 million in order to protect a fortune that is in the hundreds of millions if not billions was, for many, just good common sense.

[00:14:43] The second factor to mention is less practical, but equally if not more important.

[00:14:49] And that’s to do with the links between oligarchs and British politics, especially the Conservative party, the party now in power in the UK.

[00:14:59] Like in Russia, oligarchs realised early on that it paid to be on good terms with the political class.

[00:15:07] Oligarchs have donated millions of pounds to the Conservative party, and made sure that British lords and powerful politicians have well-paid jobs sitting on the boards of their companies.

[00:15:20] In January of 2009, a billionaire ex-KGB agent called Alexander Lebedev was announced as the new owner of London’s Evening Standard newspaper.

[00:15:32] Lebedev has claimed that he is no oligarch, and that he is actually out of favour with the Russian state, but not everyone seems to believe him.

[00:15:42] Indeed, whatever Lebedev says, he is, or at least has been, too close to the Kremlin. One 

[00:15:49] person who was at least one degree removed, however, was his son, Evgeny Lebedev.

[00:15:55] Evgeny, who was only 29 when his father bought this British newspaper has become a highly influential figure in British high society, even befriending the up and coming British politician, Boris Johnson.

[00:16:09] Evgeny Lebedev, this son of an oligarch, completed his transition to the top of British society when he was given a peerage, the technical term for when you become a member of the House of Lords, in 2020.

[00:16:24] Eyebrows were raised in the British press when Boris Johnson announced that his friend was given this high honour, but this became even more controversial when it was revealed that the British security services had expressed their concern about Lebedev becoming a Lord, given his father’s links to the Kremlin, but Boris Johnson had dismissed these concerns as unimportant.

[00:16:48] Now, this is not of course to suggest that Lebedev has done anything wrong or untoward, but rather to illustrate quite how entwined these two worlds have become: that the son of a billionaire ex-KGB agent now has the title of “Baron Lebedev, of Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and of Siberia in the Russian Federation”.

[00:17:13] And for the best part of 30 years, Russian money has been pouring into London. And it has made a lot of people very rich.

[00:17:23] From the bankers handling the oligarchs' money to the lawyers representing them in court, from the public affairs professionals handling their media relations to the estate agents selling their houses, from the private schools educating their children to the luxury shops catering to their every wish, these oligarchs brought with them a lot of money.

[00:17:45] And for people who were providing services to the oligarchs, perhaps as you might expect, there was little questioning about where this money came from.

[00:17:56] Roman Abramovich was only 36 years old when he bought Chelsea for £140 million, and he had amassed a multi-billion dollar fortune through acquiring Russian state assets at below-market prices. 

[00:18:10] In the case of practically every oligarch, the spectacular wealth they had amassed came from close links to the Kremlin, and from getting their hands on reduced-price state assets.

[00:18:22] In short, there were some question marks about the legality and honesty with which they had acquired their money.

[00:18:30] But they had so much money, and they were able to pay so much, that few questions were asked. 

[00:18:37] After all, money is money, and British politicians were all too happy to encourage any rich foreigners to invest in the country, regardless of where that money might have come from, or who it might be linked to.

[00:18:51] Indeed, of all of the golden visas, those “Tier 1” visas I mentioned earlier, half had been reviewed for potential “national security risks”.

[00:19:03] But while the going had been good for almost 30 years, this all changed, of course, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

[00:19:11] As much of the western world turned to sanctions to exert pressure on the Russian regime, the British government, and the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was left with an uncomfortable decision.

[00:19:24] Evidently, the UK had to impose sanctions on Russia, but this was condemned as somewhat hypocritical, given the fact that over the past 30 years the UK had created the perfect living and operating environment for Russian oligarchs.

[00:19:40] Although it is hard to have much sympathy for them, this has understandably left the Russian oligarchs feeling somewhat betrayed by the city and country that they had thought was “safe”, a place where nobody asked questions as long as the bills had lots of zeros and were paid promptly.

[00:19:59] So, what is next for Londongrad, the destination of choice for the Russian oligarch?

[00:20:05] Well, so long as the war in Ukraine continues, Londongrad is “on pause”. 

[00:20:10] The sanctions mean that the oligarch’s assets haven’t been permanently taken by the British government, they have just been “kidnapped”, so to speak.

[00:20:19] Of course, the intention behind these sanctions is to get powerful oligarchs to use their influence to put pressure on Vladimir Putin and stop the invasion of Ukraine, but, unfortunately, as of the time of recording this episode at least, it hasn’t had the desired effect.

[00:20:36] But when the war in Ukraine is over, which one can only hope will be soon, perhaps even by the time you’re listening to this, and when sanctions are lifted on Russian oligarchs, the question remains about whether things will return to “normal” in Londongrad, or whether the curtain really has been lifted and the public mood has changed.

[00:20:57] One thing is certainly true. Bankers, estate agents, public relations companies, accountants, lawyers, and even politicians have all grown fat on thirty years of oligarchs’ cash.

[00:21:11] And while the Russian oligarchs might have been the most conspicuous, the most obvious, of the billionaires piling into London, Russians were far from the only ones.

[00:21:21] The city is full of billionaires from all over the world - China, the Middle East, West Africa to name just a few places. 

[00:21:30] Some, of course, are self-made entrepreneurs in their country and their wealth has come from growing large and successful companies.

[00:21:38] But, more often than not, it's sad to say, as in the case of many of the oligarchs, the origin of this extreme wealth is not so easy to explain.

[00:21:49] Fortunately for the oligarchs, and in fact now fortunately for anyone with a large enough bank balance, London’s bankers, accountants, lawyers and politicians are happy to not ask too many questions about where the money really comes from.

[00:22:06] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Russian oligarchs in London.

[00:22:11] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:22:15] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:22:18] Did you know that London was such a centre for Russian oligarchs

[00:22:22] I’d especially love to hear from the Russian listeners out there.

[00:22:25] What do you think about this? How does it make you feel?

[00:22:29] What do you think the UK should do about it?

[00:22:31] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:39] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:44] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Russian oligarchs in London.

[00:00:27] It’s a story of extreme wealth, of greed and hypocrisy, of globalisation, of the law, of politics, of the media, and of East meets West.

[00:00:38] It’s also a story that was, until very recently, conveniently not talked about very much.

[00:00:44] But the invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022 put a change to that, with British politicians finally admitting that Britain’s capital had become a safe haven for Russian money linked to the Kremlin.

[00:00:58] So that is what we’ll be talking about today, how and why did Russian oligarchs fall in love with London, and what does the future hold for the city some had come to call “Londongrad”.

[00:01:11] OK then, Russian oligarchs in London.

[00:01:17] On July 1st of 2003 it was announced in the British press that a Russian called Roman Abramovich had bought Chelsea football club for £140 million.

[00:01:29] Not many Chelsea fans had heard of this man before, but they didn’t complain as he poured hundreds of millions of pounds into the club, turning it into a top-tier team that has won dozens of trophies.

[00:01:44] Abramovich became an increasingly known figure in the British media. He would be photographed at influential society events, like Wimbledon, and stars like Paul McCartney and Leonardo Di Caprio would be seen at his parties. 

[00:01:59] He snapped up properties at London’s fanciest addresses, including a £90 million house that used to be the Soviet Embassy.

[00:02:09] Roman Abramovich might have been the first high profile Russian businessman that people in Britain were introduced to, but he was far from the only one.

[00:02:20] London is now called home by thousands of wealthy Russians, and by “wealthy”, I do not mean someone with a high salary who sometimes goes on nice holidays and eats at nice restaurants from time to time.

[00:02:34] I mean a different level of “wealthy”. 

[00:02:37] A level of wealth which involves buying multi-million dollar yachts, summer houses in the south of France, fine art, chauffeured limousines, helicopters, and a fleet of personal assistants waiting on your every request.

[00:02:51] A level of wealth that is, when possessed by a Russian businessman, normally associated with one word: oligarch.

[00:03:01] Now, you no doubt don’t need me to tell you what an oligarch is.

[00:03:05] The term was first used by Aristotle, but in recent years it has come to be associated with a small group of men who amassed huge fortunes after the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent deregulation of the Russian economy.

[00:03:22] Long story short, as state assets were privatised, they were sold off to private individuals at a very low price, allowing the people who managed to control these assets to acquire vast wealth at a tiny cost.

[00:03:37] Abramovich was one of these men.

[00:03:40] But he is far from the only oligarch to have called London home.

[00:03:45] Russian oligarchs have snapped up, they have bought some of London’s most desirable properties, sent their children to Britain’s most exclusive private schools, listed their companies on London’s stock exchange, bought fine art at London’s exclusive art galleries, bought football clubs and made London their second home.

[00:04:08] So much so that the press started to nickname London “Londongrad”, or “Moscow on Thames”.

[00:04:16] The question you may have is…why?

[00:04:19] Why London, why not Paris, Rome, Berlin, Madrid, New York, or any other world city?

[00:04:27] Well, London certainly has lots to offer from a cultural and entertainment point of view. Shops, theatres, good restaurants, bars, and so on.

[00:04:37] There are also plenty of other very wealthy and influential people who you can become friends with, so you can feel at home as a billionaire.

[00:04:47] There’s also the very practical reason that London isn’t so far from Moscow - it’s a mere three and a half hour flight, which if you consider that you’ll be going in a private jet so you don’t have to worry about tedious things like waiting around to board the aeroplane, it’s no distance at all.

[00:05:06] But these are all relatively trivial, or unimportant things. 

[00:05:11] You can find these in Rome, Paris or Berlin, so what’s special about London?

[00:05:19] Well, two things in particular.

[00:05:21] The legal system, and the financial system.

[00:05:26] Let’s talk about the law first, and we are going to focus on two areas of the law. 

[00:05:32] Its strength, and a particular aspect of the law called “libel”, which makes it attractive to oligarchs.

[00:05:40] First, the strength of English law. The UK is a politically stable country with a strong legal systems. English law is frequently used by countries outside the UK as an example of a strong and sound legal system.

[00:05:56] This makes it a good place to consider as a second home and as a space to park or store large amounts of money, because, as long as you stay within the law in the UK, the British state is not going to try to steal your house or your money. 

[00:06:14] Indeed, what better place to put your money than in a large house in the middle of a European capital city, where it will be protected by the strong rule of law?

[00:06:24] You might be listening to this and thinking, “well of course a European country isn’t going to try to steal your money”, but to a Russian oligarch, this wasn’t obvious at all.

[00:06:34] Oligarchs like Abramovich had seen first-hand how the fortunes of other oligarchs, other men just like them, had been taken back by the Russian state.

[00:06:45] This was perhaps most vividly and grotesquely illustrated by the fate of one oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who openly challenged Vladiminir Putin. 

[00:06:56] You might remember seeing pictures of his trial

[00:06:59] As a defendant, he was placed in a cage – not an ordinary cage, but a big one which made him look like a caged and deranged animal. 

[00:07:10] Khodorkovsky made the error of standing up to his president, and he paid the price. 

[00:07:16] He was found guilty of corruption, was put in jail for 10 years and then expelled from Russia. 

[00:07:23] The message to the oligarchs was clear - everything you have is thanks to the Russian state, and it can be taken away just as quickly as it was given.

[00:07:34] So, the appeal of a legal system that isn’t going to take your money and property from you was clear.

[00:07:41] Now, the second aspect of English law that was particularly important to Russian oligarchs is to do with something called “libel”.

[00:07:50] Essentially, what this means is that if a journalist or author writes something about me that I don't think is true or that presents me in a bad light, I can sue them, I can take them to court for an almost limitless amount of money.

[00:08:06] And the English system is particularly favourable to people with lots of money to pay expensive lawyers.

[00:08:14] Let me explain this further because it is an important element of London's attractiveness to people like oligarchs.

[00:08:22] If, for example, a journalist researches and aims to publish a book exposing the corruption of a powerful person, whether an oligarch or a president, the English legal system and the law surrounding libel means that the person who has been accused of the crimes has only to show that he or she has had harm caused to them as a result of what has been said. 

[00:08:48] The defendant, the person who wrote these things, has to prove that what he or she has written is true, and evidently when it comes to writing about the behaviour of anyone in a position of power, being able to prove without a doubt that something has happened is not easy. 

[00:09:07] This system has been used by oligarchs in order to stop important pieces of investigative journalism being published. 

[00:09:14] There was a book by an author called Karen Dawisha called "Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?”, which was initially rejected by British publishers because it was too risky to publish, and was only taken on by American publishers.

[00:09:31] For a journalist or a publisher, if they are accused of libel by an oligarch it becomes very expensive to fight the case even if what they know they published is true. 

[00:09:43] So these articles and books simply aren’t published, which results in London, and the UK in general, being a place where the rich and powerful know that they can be safe from too many investigative journalists prying into their business.

[00:09:59] Now, the second reason for the attractiveness of London was for its hub as a financial centre.

[00:10:07] Starting really in the 1970s and 1980s, London became a global financial hub. Hundreds of billions of dollars pass through London’s banks every day, and with this growth in the amount of money flowing around came a growth in all of the other kinds of associated services: lawyers, accountants, public relations, private bankers and so on.

[00:10:31] If you need to move a lot of money around, having a small army of bankers, lawyers and accountants evidently comes in handy.

[00:10:40] What’s more, the UK has very loose laws relating to company ownership, which means hiding your money and assets from prying eyes is very easy to do in the UK.

[00:10:54] In practical terms, it’s very easy to set up a company. 

[00:10:58] In fact, anyone can do it, you don’t need to send in any documents, it takes just a few minutes and it costs £12 - under $15. If you don’t believe me, just try it - you could have set up a full UK company in less than the time you’ve been listening to this episode.

[00:11:17] UK law is also very happy for companies to be owned by other companies, often based in former British colonies or territories - places like Jersey, the Cayman Islands or Malta.

[00:11:30] These companies are then, in turn, owned by other companies, meaning that there is a long and complicated web of ownership and it is very hard to figure out who actually owns anything.

[00:11:43] And this is a wonderful system if you are trying to move money around the world and buy things without people actually knowing it is you who is buying them.

[00:11:55] UK law allows “companies” to buy things like houses and property, so that £90 million house I mentioned earlier that was bought by Roman Abramovich, I should say “reportedly”, because it was actually bought by another company which is reportedly controlled by Roman Abramovich.

[00:12:14] Indeed, you can go to these ultra-expensive areas of London - Mayfair and Knightsbridge - and if you were to look at who actually bought the houses there, the houses that were lived in by billionaires and multibillionaires, almost all of them would theoretically be owned by obscure companies that might be themselves owned by other companies in the Cayman Islands or Bermuda. 

[00:12:37] You see where we are going here. The UK legal and financial system means it is very easy not only to disguise ownership of what you have, but it also makes it very hard for someone to get their hands on it even if they wanted to.

[00:12:54] This is one of the problems that the UK government faced when it finally decided to sanction Russian oligarchs in March of 2022. 

[00:13:04] We’ll get onto that in a minute, but first it’s important to highlight two additional factors about the UK's attraction for oligarchs. The first is a practical factor.

[00:13:16] You might think that the UK is a difficult country to immigrate to, and that it is hard and complicated to get a British passport.

[00:13:25] It is for most people, but it isn’t if you have enough money. 

[00:13:30] And by enough, I mean tens or hundreds of millions of pounds.

[00:13:34] See, while countries like St Kitts, Cyprus or Malta might be better known as countries that sell their passports, the UK will quite happily give you what it calls a “Tier 1” visa, otherwise known as a “golden visa”.

[00:13:50] It’s called a “golden” visa because, as you might have guessed, you need a lot of money to get one.

[00:13:57] Specifically, if you invested at least £2 million you could get residency in the UK, and the more you invested, the quicker your application for “permanent residency” would be processed.

[00:14:11] £2 million might be out of reach for most people, but it was pocket change for an oligarch, and between 2008 when the scheme was launched and 2020 when it was suspended due to the pandemic, 2,581 of these visas were issued to wealthy Russians.

[00:14:31] Indeed, paying £2 million in order to protect a fortune that is in the hundreds of millions if not billions was, for many, just good common sense.

[00:14:43] The second factor to mention is less practical, but equally if not more important.

[00:14:49] And that’s to do with the links between oligarchs and British politics, especially the Conservative party, the party now in power in the UK.

[00:14:59] Like in Russia, oligarchs realised early on that it paid to be on good terms with the political class.

[00:15:07] Oligarchs have donated millions of pounds to the Conservative party, and made sure that British lords and powerful politicians have well-paid jobs sitting on the boards of their companies.

[00:15:20] In January of 2009, a billionaire ex-KGB agent called Alexander Lebedev was announced as the new owner of London’s Evening Standard newspaper.

[00:15:32] Lebedev has claimed that he is no oligarch, and that he is actually out of favour with the Russian state, but not everyone seems to believe him.

[00:15:42] Indeed, whatever Lebedev says, he is, or at least has been, too close to the Kremlin. One 

[00:15:49] person who was at least one degree removed, however, was his son, Evgeny Lebedev.

[00:15:55] Evgeny, who was only 29 when his father bought this British newspaper has become a highly influential figure in British high society, even befriending the up and coming British politician, Boris Johnson.

[00:16:09] Evgeny Lebedev, this son of an oligarch, completed his transition to the top of British society when he was given a peerage, the technical term for when you become a member of the House of Lords, in 2020.

[00:16:24] Eyebrows were raised in the British press when Boris Johnson announced that his friend was given this high honour, but this became even more controversial when it was revealed that the British security services had expressed their concern about Lebedev becoming a Lord, given his father’s links to the Kremlin, but Boris Johnson had dismissed these concerns as unimportant.

[00:16:48] Now, this is not of course to suggest that Lebedev has done anything wrong or untoward, but rather to illustrate quite how entwined these two worlds have become: that the son of a billionaire ex-KGB agent now has the title of “Baron Lebedev, of Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and of Siberia in the Russian Federation”.

[00:17:13] And for the best part of 30 years, Russian money has been pouring into London. And it has made a lot of people very rich.

[00:17:23] From the bankers handling the oligarchs' money to the lawyers representing them in court, from the public affairs professionals handling their media relations to the estate agents selling their houses, from the private schools educating their children to the luxury shops catering to their every wish, these oligarchs brought with them a lot of money.

[00:17:45] And for people who were providing services to the oligarchs, perhaps as you might expect, there was little questioning about where this money came from.

[00:17:56] Roman Abramovich was only 36 years old when he bought Chelsea for £140 million, and he had amassed a multi-billion dollar fortune through acquiring Russian state assets at below-market prices. 

[00:18:10] In the case of practically every oligarch, the spectacular wealth they had amassed came from close links to the Kremlin, and from getting their hands on reduced-price state assets.

[00:18:22] In short, there were some question marks about the legality and honesty with which they had acquired their money.

[00:18:30] But they had so much money, and they were able to pay so much, that few questions were asked. 

[00:18:37] After all, money is money, and British politicians were all too happy to encourage any rich foreigners to invest in the country, regardless of where that money might have come from, or who it might be linked to.

[00:18:51] Indeed, of all of the golden visas, those “Tier 1” visas I mentioned earlier, half had been reviewed for potential “national security risks”.

[00:19:03] But while the going had been good for almost 30 years, this all changed, of course, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

[00:19:11] As much of the western world turned to sanctions to exert pressure on the Russian regime, the British government, and the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was left with an uncomfortable decision.

[00:19:24] Evidently, the UK had to impose sanctions on Russia, but this was condemned as somewhat hypocritical, given the fact that over the past 30 years the UK had created the perfect living and operating environment for Russian oligarchs.

[00:19:40] Although it is hard to have much sympathy for them, this has understandably left the Russian oligarchs feeling somewhat betrayed by the city and country that they had thought was “safe”, a place where nobody asked questions as long as the bills had lots of zeros and were paid promptly.

[00:19:59] So, what is next for Londongrad, the destination of choice for the Russian oligarch?

[00:20:05] Well, so long as the war in Ukraine continues, Londongrad is “on pause”. 

[00:20:10] The sanctions mean that the oligarch’s assets haven’t been permanently taken by the British government, they have just been “kidnapped”, so to speak.

[00:20:19] Of course, the intention behind these sanctions is to get powerful oligarchs to use their influence to put pressure on Vladimir Putin and stop the invasion of Ukraine, but, unfortunately, as of the time of recording this episode at least, it hasn’t had the desired effect.

[00:20:36] But when the war in Ukraine is over, which one can only hope will be soon, perhaps even by the time you’re listening to this, and when sanctions are lifted on Russian oligarchs, the question remains about whether things will return to “normal” in Londongrad, or whether the curtain really has been lifted and the public mood has changed.

[00:20:57] One thing is certainly true. Bankers, estate agents, public relations companies, accountants, lawyers, and even politicians have all grown fat on thirty years of oligarchs’ cash.

[00:21:11] And while the Russian oligarchs might have been the most conspicuous, the most obvious, of the billionaires piling into London, Russians were far from the only ones.

[00:21:21] The city is full of billionaires from all over the world - China, the Middle East, West Africa to name just a few places. 

[00:21:30] Some, of course, are self-made entrepreneurs in their country and their wealth has come from growing large and successful companies.

[00:21:38] But, more often than not, it's sad to say, as in the case of many of the oligarchs, the origin of this extreme wealth is not so easy to explain.

[00:21:49] Fortunately for the oligarchs, and in fact now fortunately for anyone with a large enough bank balance, London’s bankers, accountants, lawyers and politicians are happy to not ask too many questions about where the money really comes from.

[00:22:06] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Russian oligarchs in London.

[00:22:11] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:22:15] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:22:18] Did you know that London was such a centre for Russian oligarchs

[00:22:22] I’d especially love to hear from the Russian listeners out there.

[00:22:25] What do you think about this? How does it make you feel?

[00:22:29] What do you think the UK should do about it?

[00:22:31] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:39] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:44] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Russian oligarchs in London.

[00:00:27] It’s a story of extreme wealth, of greed and hypocrisy, of globalisation, of the law, of politics, of the media, and of East meets West.

[00:00:38] It’s also a story that was, until very recently, conveniently not talked about very much.

[00:00:44] But the invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022 put a change to that, with British politicians finally admitting that Britain’s capital had become a safe haven for Russian money linked to the Kremlin.

[00:00:58] So that is what we’ll be talking about today, how and why did Russian oligarchs fall in love with London, and what does the future hold for the city some had come to call “Londongrad”.

[00:01:11] OK then, Russian oligarchs in London.

[00:01:17] On July 1st of 2003 it was announced in the British press that a Russian called Roman Abramovich had bought Chelsea football club for £140 million.

[00:01:29] Not many Chelsea fans had heard of this man before, but they didn’t complain as he poured hundreds of millions of pounds into the club, turning it into a top-tier team that has won dozens of trophies.

[00:01:44] Abramovich became an increasingly known figure in the British media. He would be photographed at influential society events, like Wimbledon, and stars like Paul McCartney and Leonardo Di Caprio would be seen at his parties. 

[00:01:59] He snapped up properties at London’s fanciest addresses, including a £90 million house that used to be the Soviet Embassy.

[00:02:09] Roman Abramovich might have been the first high profile Russian businessman that people in Britain were introduced to, but he was far from the only one.

[00:02:20] London is now called home by thousands of wealthy Russians, and by “wealthy”, I do not mean someone with a high salary who sometimes goes on nice holidays and eats at nice restaurants from time to time.

[00:02:34] I mean a different level of “wealthy”. 

[00:02:37] A level of wealth which involves buying multi-million dollar yachts, summer houses in the south of France, fine art, chauffeured limousines, helicopters, and a fleet of personal assistants waiting on your every request.

[00:02:51] A level of wealth that is, when possessed by a Russian businessman, normally associated with one word: oligarch.

[00:03:01] Now, you no doubt don’t need me to tell you what an oligarch is.

[00:03:05] The term was first used by Aristotle, but in recent years it has come to be associated with a small group of men who amassed huge fortunes after the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent deregulation of the Russian economy.

[00:03:22] Long story short, as state assets were privatised, they were sold off to private individuals at a very low price, allowing the people who managed to control these assets to acquire vast wealth at a tiny cost.

[00:03:37] Abramovich was one of these men.

[00:03:40] But he is far from the only oligarch to have called London home.

[00:03:45] Russian oligarchs have snapped up, they have bought some of London’s most desirable properties, sent their children to Britain’s most exclusive private schools, listed their companies on London’s stock exchange, bought fine art at London’s exclusive art galleries, bought football clubs and made London their second home.

[00:04:08] So much so that the press started to nickname London “Londongrad”, or “Moscow on Thames”.

[00:04:16] The question you may have is…why?

[00:04:19] Why London, why not Paris, Rome, Berlin, Madrid, New York, or any other world city?

[00:04:27] Well, London certainly has lots to offer from a cultural and entertainment point of view. Shops, theatres, good restaurants, bars, and so on.

[00:04:37] There are also plenty of other very wealthy and influential people who you can become friends with, so you can feel at home as a billionaire.

[00:04:47] There’s also the very practical reason that London isn’t so far from Moscow - it’s a mere three and a half hour flight, which if you consider that you’ll be going in a private jet so you don’t have to worry about tedious things like waiting around to board the aeroplane, it’s no distance at all.

[00:05:06] But these are all relatively trivial, or unimportant things. 

[00:05:11] You can find these in Rome, Paris or Berlin, so what’s special about London?

[00:05:19] Well, two things in particular.

[00:05:21] The legal system, and the financial system.

[00:05:26] Let’s talk about the law first, and we are going to focus on two areas of the law. 

[00:05:32] Its strength, and a particular aspect of the law called “libel”, which makes it attractive to oligarchs.

[00:05:40] First, the strength of English law. The UK is a politically stable country with a strong legal systems. English law is frequently used by countries outside the UK as an example of a strong and sound legal system.

[00:05:56] This makes it a good place to consider as a second home and as a space to park or store large amounts of money, because, as long as you stay within the law in the UK, the British state is not going to try to steal your house or your money. 

[00:06:14] Indeed, what better place to put your money than in a large house in the middle of a European capital city, where it will be protected by the strong rule of law?

[00:06:24] You might be listening to this and thinking, “well of course a European country isn’t going to try to steal your money”, but to a Russian oligarch, this wasn’t obvious at all.

[00:06:34] Oligarchs like Abramovich had seen first-hand how the fortunes of other oligarchs, other men just like them, had been taken back by the Russian state.

[00:06:45] This was perhaps most vividly and grotesquely illustrated by the fate of one oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who openly challenged Vladiminir Putin. 

[00:06:56] You might remember seeing pictures of his trial

[00:06:59] As a defendant, he was placed in a cage – not an ordinary cage, but a big one which made him look like a caged and deranged animal. 

[00:07:10] Khodorkovsky made the error of standing up to his president, and he paid the price. 

[00:07:16] He was found guilty of corruption, was put in jail for 10 years and then expelled from Russia. 

[00:07:23] The message to the oligarchs was clear - everything you have is thanks to the Russian state, and it can be taken away just as quickly as it was given.

[00:07:34] So, the appeal of a legal system that isn’t going to take your money and property from you was clear.

[00:07:41] Now, the second aspect of English law that was particularly important to Russian oligarchs is to do with something called “libel”.

[00:07:50] Essentially, what this means is that if a journalist or author writes something about me that I don't think is true or that presents me in a bad light, I can sue them, I can take them to court for an almost limitless amount of money.

[00:08:06] And the English system is particularly favourable to people with lots of money to pay expensive lawyers.

[00:08:14] Let me explain this further because it is an important element of London's attractiveness to people like oligarchs.

[00:08:22] If, for example, a journalist researches and aims to publish a book exposing the corruption of a powerful person, whether an oligarch or a president, the English legal system and the law surrounding libel means that the person who has been accused of the crimes has only to show that he or she has had harm caused to them as a result of what has been said. 

[00:08:48] The defendant, the person who wrote these things, has to prove that what he or she has written is true, and evidently when it comes to writing about the behaviour of anyone in a position of power, being able to prove without a doubt that something has happened is not easy. 

[00:09:07] This system has been used by oligarchs in order to stop important pieces of investigative journalism being published. 

[00:09:14] There was a book by an author called Karen Dawisha called "Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?”, which was initially rejected by British publishers because it was too risky to publish, and was only taken on by American publishers.

[00:09:31] For a journalist or a publisher, if they are accused of libel by an oligarch it becomes very expensive to fight the case even if what they know they published is true. 

[00:09:43] So these articles and books simply aren’t published, which results in London, and the UK in general, being a place where the rich and powerful know that they can be safe from too many investigative journalists prying into their business.

[00:09:59] Now, the second reason for the attractiveness of London was for its hub as a financial centre.

[00:10:07] Starting really in the 1970s and 1980s, London became a global financial hub. Hundreds of billions of dollars pass through London’s banks every day, and with this growth in the amount of money flowing around came a growth in all of the other kinds of associated services: lawyers, accountants, public relations, private bankers and so on.

[00:10:31] If you need to move a lot of money around, having a small army of bankers, lawyers and accountants evidently comes in handy.

[00:10:40] What’s more, the UK has very loose laws relating to company ownership, which means hiding your money and assets from prying eyes is very easy to do in the UK.

[00:10:54] In practical terms, it’s very easy to set up a company. 

[00:10:58] In fact, anyone can do it, you don’t need to send in any documents, it takes just a few minutes and it costs £12 - under $15. If you don’t believe me, just try it - you could have set up a full UK company in less than the time you’ve been listening to this episode.

[00:11:17] UK law is also very happy for companies to be owned by other companies, often based in former British colonies or territories - places like Jersey, the Cayman Islands or Malta.

[00:11:30] These companies are then, in turn, owned by other companies, meaning that there is a long and complicated web of ownership and it is very hard to figure out who actually owns anything.

[00:11:43] And this is a wonderful system if you are trying to move money around the world and buy things without people actually knowing it is you who is buying them.

[00:11:55] UK law allows “companies” to buy things like houses and property, so that £90 million house I mentioned earlier that was bought by Roman Abramovich, I should say “reportedly”, because it was actually bought by another company which is reportedly controlled by Roman Abramovich.

[00:12:14] Indeed, you can go to these ultra-expensive areas of London - Mayfair and Knightsbridge - and if you were to look at who actually bought the houses there, the houses that were lived in by billionaires and multibillionaires, almost all of them would theoretically be owned by obscure companies that might be themselves owned by other companies in the Cayman Islands or Bermuda. 

[00:12:37] You see where we are going here. The UK legal and financial system means it is very easy not only to disguise ownership of what you have, but it also makes it very hard for someone to get their hands on it even if they wanted to.

[00:12:54] This is one of the problems that the UK government faced when it finally decided to sanction Russian oligarchs in March of 2022. 

[00:13:04] We’ll get onto that in a minute, but first it’s important to highlight two additional factors about the UK's attraction for oligarchs. The first is a practical factor.

[00:13:16] You might think that the UK is a difficult country to immigrate to, and that it is hard and complicated to get a British passport.

[00:13:25] It is for most people, but it isn’t if you have enough money. 

[00:13:30] And by enough, I mean tens or hundreds of millions of pounds.

[00:13:34] See, while countries like St Kitts, Cyprus or Malta might be better known as countries that sell their passports, the UK will quite happily give you what it calls a “Tier 1” visa, otherwise known as a “golden visa”.

[00:13:50] It’s called a “golden” visa because, as you might have guessed, you need a lot of money to get one.

[00:13:57] Specifically, if you invested at least £2 million you could get residency in the UK, and the more you invested, the quicker your application for “permanent residency” would be processed.

[00:14:11] £2 million might be out of reach for most people, but it was pocket change for an oligarch, and between 2008 when the scheme was launched and 2020 when it was suspended due to the pandemic, 2,581 of these visas were issued to wealthy Russians.

[00:14:31] Indeed, paying £2 million in order to protect a fortune that is in the hundreds of millions if not billions was, for many, just good common sense.

[00:14:43] The second factor to mention is less practical, but equally if not more important.

[00:14:49] And that’s to do with the links between oligarchs and British politics, especially the Conservative party, the party now in power in the UK.

[00:14:59] Like in Russia, oligarchs realised early on that it paid to be on good terms with the political class.

[00:15:07] Oligarchs have donated millions of pounds to the Conservative party, and made sure that British lords and powerful politicians have well-paid jobs sitting on the boards of their companies.

[00:15:20] In January of 2009, a billionaire ex-KGB agent called Alexander Lebedev was announced as the new owner of London’s Evening Standard newspaper.

[00:15:32] Lebedev has claimed that he is no oligarch, and that he is actually out of favour with the Russian state, but not everyone seems to believe him.

[00:15:42] Indeed, whatever Lebedev says, he is, or at least has been, too close to the Kremlin. One 

[00:15:49] person who was at least one degree removed, however, was his son, Evgeny Lebedev.

[00:15:55] Evgeny, who was only 29 when his father bought this British newspaper has become a highly influential figure in British high society, even befriending the up and coming British politician, Boris Johnson.

[00:16:09] Evgeny Lebedev, this son of an oligarch, completed his transition to the top of British society when he was given a peerage, the technical term for when you become a member of the House of Lords, in 2020.

[00:16:24] Eyebrows were raised in the British press when Boris Johnson announced that his friend was given this high honour, but this became even more controversial when it was revealed that the British security services had expressed their concern about Lebedev becoming a Lord, given his father’s links to the Kremlin, but Boris Johnson had dismissed these concerns as unimportant.

[00:16:48] Now, this is not of course to suggest that Lebedev has done anything wrong or untoward, but rather to illustrate quite how entwined these two worlds have become: that the son of a billionaire ex-KGB agent now has the title of “Baron Lebedev, of Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and of Siberia in the Russian Federation”.

[00:17:13] And for the best part of 30 years, Russian money has been pouring into London. And it has made a lot of people very rich.

[00:17:23] From the bankers handling the oligarchs' money to the lawyers representing them in court, from the public affairs professionals handling their media relations to the estate agents selling their houses, from the private schools educating their children to the luxury shops catering to their every wish, these oligarchs brought with them a lot of money.

[00:17:45] And for people who were providing services to the oligarchs, perhaps as you might expect, there was little questioning about where this money came from.

[00:17:56] Roman Abramovich was only 36 years old when he bought Chelsea for £140 million, and he had amassed a multi-billion dollar fortune through acquiring Russian state assets at below-market prices. 

[00:18:10] In the case of practically every oligarch, the spectacular wealth they had amassed came from close links to the Kremlin, and from getting their hands on reduced-price state assets.

[00:18:22] In short, there were some question marks about the legality and honesty with which they had acquired their money.

[00:18:30] But they had so much money, and they were able to pay so much, that few questions were asked. 

[00:18:37] After all, money is money, and British politicians were all too happy to encourage any rich foreigners to invest in the country, regardless of where that money might have come from, or who it might be linked to.

[00:18:51] Indeed, of all of the golden visas, those “Tier 1” visas I mentioned earlier, half had been reviewed for potential “national security risks”.

[00:19:03] But while the going had been good for almost 30 years, this all changed, of course, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

[00:19:11] As much of the western world turned to sanctions to exert pressure on the Russian regime, the British government, and the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was left with an uncomfortable decision.

[00:19:24] Evidently, the UK had to impose sanctions on Russia, but this was condemned as somewhat hypocritical, given the fact that over the past 30 years the UK had created the perfect living and operating environment for Russian oligarchs.

[00:19:40] Although it is hard to have much sympathy for them, this has understandably left the Russian oligarchs feeling somewhat betrayed by the city and country that they had thought was “safe”, a place where nobody asked questions as long as the bills had lots of zeros and were paid promptly.

[00:19:59] So, what is next for Londongrad, the destination of choice for the Russian oligarch?

[00:20:05] Well, so long as the war in Ukraine continues, Londongrad is “on pause”. 

[00:20:10] The sanctions mean that the oligarch’s assets haven’t been permanently taken by the British government, they have just been “kidnapped”, so to speak.

[00:20:19] Of course, the intention behind these sanctions is to get powerful oligarchs to use their influence to put pressure on Vladimir Putin and stop the invasion of Ukraine, but, unfortunately, as of the time of recording this episode at least, it hasn’t had the desired effect.

[00:20:36] But when the war in Ukraine is over, which one can only hope will be soon, perhaps even by the time you’re listening to this, and when sanctions are lifted on Russian oligarchs, the question remains about whether things will return to “normal” in Londongrad, or whether the curtain really has been lifted and the public mood has changed.

[00:20:57] One thing is certainly true. Bankers, estate agents, public relations companies, accountants, lawyers, and even politicians have all grown fat on thirty years of oligarchs’ cash.

[00:21:11] And while the Russian oligarchs might have been the most conspicuous, the most obvious, of the billionaires piling into London, Russians were far from the only ones.

[00:21:21] The city is full of billionaires from all over the world - China, the Middle East, West Africa to name just a few places. 

[00:21:30] Some, of course, are self-made entrepreneurs in their country and their wealth has come from growing large and successful companies.

[00:21:38] But, more often than not, it's sad to say, as in the case of many of the oligarchs, the origin of this extreme wealth is not so easy to explain.

[00:21:49] Fortunately for the oligarchs, and in fact now fortunately for anyone with a large enough bank balance, London’s bankers, accountants, lawyers and politicians are happy to not ask too many questions about where the money really comes from.

[00:22:06] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Russian oligarchs in London.

[00:22:11] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:22:15] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:22:18] Did you know that London was such a centre for Russian oligarchs

[00:22:22] I’d especially love to hear from the Russian listeners out there.

[00:22:25] What do you think about this? How does it make you feel?

[00:22:29] What do you think the UK should do about it?

[00:22:31] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:39] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:44] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]