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London- Playground for the New Russian Elite

by easterneuropeans.co.uk
London- Playground for the New Russian Elite
On the streets of London, it is not uncommon to see Russian elite’s out for a weekend visit or turning the key to their home. London is a convenient entertainment metropolis for those seeking culture, shopping, or play. Over the last twenty years, there has been an influx of Russians using London as a kick off site for personal and professional ambitions. Many of these Russians have made London there permanent home. But, not all of the of the nearly 400,000 Russians living in London, are there to get started. Many have already arrived. In 2007, London gave residence to 23 billionaires. Ten of these billionaires were Russian. Another 1000 Russian millionaires call London home.

The migrating Russian elite have injected hundreds of millions in fiscal revenue through the U.K. economy. However, the reason behind their choice in place to spend their billions is quite clear cut. Moscow is only four hours from the London and makes for easy travel. UK immigration laws are lax compared to the other strong capital market countries, like the United States. UK tax loopholes allow wealthy Russians to claim they are “domiciled” abroad. This status allows them to locate their assets offshore and only pay taxes on the money that they bring into Britain. London’s stock market has a very liberal regulatory framework. The lack of a regulatory body is enticing to wealthy Russians, eager to make substantial transactions.

Despite the lack of actual income tax money London sees, the wealthy Russian community is grapping up investment real estate left and right, splurging on art and furs, cars, investing school dollars, buying yachts and private jets, paying for private security, contributing to the London Stock Exchange, opening new business & job opportunity, and hosting lavish fundraising events. This extravagant spending may be their way to get a stamp of approval, but a few old high society Brit‘s are not biting. In fact, some are often publicly defamatory against the lavish Russian influx. It seems the rest of London has welcomed the new chance for sales, though. Ocean Sky, a private jet company, estimated that 60% of their 2005 clients were Russian. In 2006, one of the most prestigious art dealers in London, Sotheby’s, reported Russian art sales of £78 million. Wealthy Russians are much flashier and extravagant in their spending, compared to Britain's native elite. London business is catering to this new Russian need for luxury items and flourishing from it.

There are claims that the influx of Russian money has made the housing market and consumer pricing out of reach for the average London resident. But, the global economy has been so fragile that mitigating circumstances may excuse that argument.

One of the most famous Russian Londoners is, Roman Abramovich. While he was once embedded with Putin, he planted his London roots by purchasing Chelsea football club. Other Russian elites like: Oleg Deripaska, Anatoly Chubais, Berezovsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky ,etc.. have all being welcomed into London. Many of these billionaire Russian oligarchs became rich in Russia during the violent and corrupt privatization process of the 90‘s. They were connected to corrupt Russian officials and often fully financed politicians elections. By 2004, just a handful of companies controlled over 40% of Russia’s economy. The oligarchs were extremely unpopular with the Russian public and were accused of being behind the lawless economy. They were accused of stealing Russia’s natural resources for private gain. While some Russian’s migrated to London to escape repression, gangster capitalism, and communism…. others were escaping the closing walls against the corruption that made them rich. Money vacated Russia as fast as the millionaires. From 1998 to 2004, over 100 billion dollars in capital left Russia.

Despite the flock of wealthy Russians to London, Russia still claimed between 87 and 101 billionaires in 2008, placing it second in the world after the USA. However, there is a new group of Russian wealthy that see 2008 as possibly their last chance to make the London leap. The Georgian/Russian conflict, combined with the 2008 USA elections and possible 2009  UK elections may tighten the main incentives -lax visa laws and tax loopholes. Therefore, we may see more Russians at play in London and less billionaires on Russia’s tout list.

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