9-12 Bell Yard knew nothing of landlord due to property ownership anonymity law
One of London’s leading sets of fraud barristers has been unwittingly renting its building from a businessman who admits laundering millions of dollars in bribes.
Due to a much-criticised law that allows landlords to hold property via shell companies without having to declare their identity, 9-12 Bell Yard Chambers had no idea who was behind the British Virgin Islands incorporated outfit that bought its offices from Scottish Widows in 2015.
But leaked documents have revealed that PDB Properties Limited — which paid £6,225,000 for the freehold of 9-12 Bell Yard last year — to have been established by Expedito Machado. He is the son of Sérgio Machado, a former Brazilian senator implicated in the Petrobras corruption scandal over kickbacks paid by contractors bidding for work. Machado junior has admitted to laundering millions of dollars in bribes on behalf of his father, with the pair currently sending shockwaves through the Brazilian establishment after agreeing plea bargains to cooperate with prosecutors.
While this is not 9-12 Bell Yard Chambers’ fault, it looks really bad for the UK establishment that a set of barristers who are renowned for their work in the field of major fraud and organised crime — and have acted in cases including the Blue Arrow fraud, Maxwell brothers fraud and Jubilee line fraud — has been paying many thousands of pounds in rent to Machado. Indeed, this could be a new low for London’s mad property market.
This afternoon we contacted 9-12 Bell Yard head of chambers Mukul Chawla QC who told us of his bemusement at the bizarre situation, commenting:
I had never heard of any of the individuals and had only been aware, following the purchase of the freehold of 9-12, that the purchaser was an offshore company with a property portfolio including properties in the UK. Since that time, all of our interaction with our new landlords has been conducted with their highly respectable London agents.
Last year Legal Cheek reported that a successful application had been made to turn 9-12 Bell Yard into luxury flats. This is forcing Chawla and his barristers to relocate next year, which is a considerable inconvenience given that the set goes by the name of the address in which it has been based since 1993.
Chawla gave this update on the situation today:
During 2015, we became aware that planning permission was sought and ultimately obtained to convert 9-12 Bell Yard into residential premises. As our lease was due to expire in the summer of 2017 we knew that our days at 9-12 were numbered. We then became aware that the freehold of the property was for sale and that ultimately that it was sold for some £6.2 million… we are looking to relocate in the area of the Royal Courts of Justice.
It is not known exactly where the money used to buy 9-12 Bell Yard came from, with representatives for Machado — who has been charged with no crime under the terms of his deal with Brazilian prosecutors — pointing out that the location is not included in a list of assets of alleged illegal origin which are being returned to the Brazilian government. But The Guardian has reported that Machado used a set of offshore structures to move cash into the UK and indicated in witness statements that the funds for the purchase of 9-12 Bell Yard and other UK properties may have come from bribes.