Prince Andrew acted as a broker for a Kazakh oligarch who wanted to buy a London home from the Queen’s estate, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed.
The Duke of York’s office tried to secure a crown estate property near Kensington Palace for the oil and gas tycoon Timur Kulibayev at the same time as his marital home of Sunninghill Park was being sold to the billionaire for £3m over the asking price.
The duke was a government trade envoy at the time of the attempted deal for Kulibayev, son-in-law of the Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Its emergence is likely to fuel calls for further investigation into his dealings with the autocratic regime.
Thirsk wrote to Philip Everett, a crown estate official at Windsor Great Park: “They [the buyers] are desperate to buy/lease a property in Kensington and are aware of the houses owned by crown estate near to KP [Kensington Palace].”
The email, sent on 12 July 2007, added: “He asked if it would be possible to sit down with you and discuss what might be becoming available in the coming years … All in all, I agree with him that the three of us should have a meeting in September to review all of the above. Would 11 September work for you? We could come down to Windsor.”
Thirsk also asked about a deal for two pieces of land next to Sunninghill and said they wanted to “work with crown estate on some joint development projects”. Everett responded that the Duke of York should contact the crown estate’s London office for information about property in Kensington. But he also hinted the duke’s office should cease its intermediary role on Sunninghill saying: “I think I should now deal direct with the incoming purchasers on any detail relating to the site.”
The crown estate said that no deal on any London properties went through as a result of the intervention, but Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the duke’s role was “unacceptable” and “looks very fishy”.
“The prince’s office needs to come clean on what happened,” he said. “His office should not be lobbying in this way. While we have a housing crisis we should be helping London families in need to get a home to call their own and not just helping rich business contacts.”
Two months later, the £15m sale of the Duke of York’s Berkshire mansion to Kulibayev was finalised.
“We’re not aware of any transaction taking place in London connected with this email,” said a spokesperson for the crown estate, which owns £12bn worth of property on behalf of the sovereign. “In any event, all our transactions are carried out in fully commercial terms in line with our statutory remit.”
The Labour MP Chris Bryant said: “It’s quite wrong for a member of the royal family to act as some kind of estate agent for Kazakh billionaires who are trying to buy up crown estate property in London, which seems to be what’s happening here. The only person who can clear this up is Prince Andrew himself and it’s about time he did so.”
Buckingham Palace said the sale of Sunninghill Park “was a straight commercial transaction between the trust which owned the house and the trust which bought it”.
It said: “There were no side deals and absolutely no arrangement from the Duke of York to benefit otherwise or to commit to any other commercial arrangement.”
Prince Andrew stepped down as an official government trade envoy in 2011 following criticism about his former association with a US convicted sex offender, the billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.
Source: theguardian com