New Property Records Reveal Beijing’s Buy-Up of London’s Financial District

New Property Records Reveal Beijing’s Buy-Up of London’s Financial District
The City of London's financial district is pictured as people walk along the south side of the River Thames in London, England on March 19, 2021. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)
Patricia Devlin

Newly released records showing overseas ownership of UK property reveal, for the first time, China’s strengthening grip on London’s financial district.

Documents released under Britain’s brand new register of overseas entities—and analysed by The Epoch Times—reveal how the Chinese regime has ploughed millions into commercial and residential properties in the affluent area using offshore companies.

The revelations are the first detailed glimpse into Chinese Communist Party (CCP) land and property ownership in the UK, which until last month was hidden by the use of foreign-registered companies.

Campaigners, who described the new information as “concerning,” say politicians need to act on the growing influence of the Chinese regime on Britain’s shores.

On one London financial-district street alone, a CCP-controlled company owns eight large properties. The Gresham Street buildings—listed as numbers 52 to 66 (even)—were purchased for over £70 million on an unknown date by a company based in the British Virgin Islands.

Up until February, it was only known that an entity called “Blooming Sun Enterprise Holdings INC” was the sole owner of the multi-million-pound property portfolio. Now, thanks to the newly released register—set up to tackle foreign criminals laundering money through UK property—it can be revealed that the actual owner of the premises is one of the financial arms of the CCP.

Owner information listed for the city-centre properties show that the state-owned Bank of China is the actual proprietor.

The buildings, which include modern serviced apartments as well as a number of retail units, are not the only financial-district properties owned by the Chinese-controlled offshore company.

Metres away on Ironmonger Lane, the Bank of China owns two residences. The properties were bought by the bank on the historical London street—which historians have traced back to Roman times—for an unknown sum. According to British real estate company Zoopla, residential properties at the sought-after location regularly fetch prices of from £1 million to £1.5 million.

The CCP-linked bank is also the owner of a five-storey building situated close to its Old Jewry bank buildings in the heart of the financial district. Both of the premises were purchased by the Bank of China’s British Virgin Islands-based company.

No financial information on the cost of this property appears on the register.

£6 Million Leasehold

On the same street, yet another Chinese state-owned business is listed as the owner of an entire building. According to the records, the China Council For The Promotion Of International Trade (CCPIT) is the overseas owner of the courtyard building at 26 Old Jewry.

The company—listed as the proprietor—is registered in China. The CCPIT is a foreign trade agency, but its parent company is the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. Again, little information is given on the exact cost of the purchase, which is recorded as a leasehold.

Interestingly, no information currently exists on the owners of the Bank of China’s financial district hub on nearby Lothbury.

Land and Registry documents available on the UK register—which separately lists British company ownership of property in England and Wales—shows that the bank, and its Lothbury address, are registered owners of a basement and ground floor space in the city of Birmingham. The space, which is located close to Birmingham’s Chinatown area, was purchased for over £6 million on a leasehold.

China’s big building buy-up in the heart of London is not the only trend evident in the overseas records. Some CCP-linked companies have bought up entire apartment blocks and rows of houses in various areas of the city.

That includes State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC) company COFCO. Also known as China Oil and Foodstuffs Corporation, it is China’s largest food processor, manufacturer, and trader.

COFCO also owns almost an entire street of houses in the Ladbroke Grove area of west London. According to records linked to the overseas entity, which registered in the UK in January, COFCO owns numbers 68 to 76 (even) on St Helens Gardens. Once again, no purchase price was listed for the Beijing-based company’s freehold investment, and it’s unclear when the purchases were made. The giant food manufacturer is also listed as the proprietor of a flat in east London.

Not too far away from London’s financial centre, another one of China’s so-called “Big Four” state-owned banks owns a raft of commercial premises. China Construction Bank is the registered owner of 109 to 118 Old Broad Street in the city’s financial district. Records state that the Beijing company owns the premises freehold for an unusually low price of just £110,964.

Elsewhere, another financial arm of the CCP owns a swathe of property.

A man walks past a booth of the Bank of China at the Main Press Centre of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on Jan. 28, 2022. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)
A man walks past a booth of the Bank of China at the Main Press Centre of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on Jan. 28, 2022. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

Canary Wharf Apartments

In total, the People’s Bank of China—responsible for carrying out monetary policy and regulation of financial institutions in the country—owns 13 properties or business premises in London, the overseas records state.

That includes an entire floor in a business block on Aldermanbury Square in central London, the Bank of China offices on Cannon Street in the city, and six apartments and a commercial suite in Canary Wharf.

According to the records, the bank is also the owner of a gated property in the leafy London suburb of Hampstead Heath.

Again, no financial or price information was listed for any of the properties. The Chinese regime has also listed itself on the Register of Overseas Entities under the name “People’s Republic of China.” It has to date only listed one leasehold residential property—purchased for over £240,000—in the Elm Village area of Camden.

The Epoch Times also viewed a number of records showing how the Chinese regime has previously registered its ownership of other UK properties under its British company of the same name. Land and Registry data shows the CCP owns another Camden home along with four other properties, including its Portland Place embassy premises.

Again, no financial information is provided alongside the listings.

Sanctions Needed

Under the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act passed last March, foreign companies must declare their beneficial owners on the new register.

The move was designed to prevent Russian oligarchs and other foreign kleptocrats laundering their “dirty money” through safe investments such as land and property in the UK—which are often disguised by opaque corporate ownership structures.

Further legislation currently going through Parliament will give additional powers to Companies House and the Insolvency Service with £20 million to recruit new teams of intelligence and analytical experts.

Overseas companies that have acquired land in the UK had until the end of January to declare their true beneficial owners under legislation fast-tracked through Parliament in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

According to figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), it is estimated that 19,510 out of 32,440 registered overseas organisations have declared—suggesting that more than a third have yet to do so.

These now face hefty fines and other criminal sanctions for failing to comply.

The data uncovered by The Epoch Times on just how much influence China has on the UK property market through overseas entities has been described as “concerning” by China experts.

Benedict Rogers, co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, said the British government needs to take the same actions against Chinese officials and entities as it did against those from Russia.

“I think it’s very concerning, although not that surprising because I think China has been using financial influence, economic coercion, and other ways to infiltrate the UK—and different sectors and institutions in the UK—for some time,” Rogers told The Epoch Times.

“But I think the scale of its influence in the financial district in the City of London is particularly concerning. And, yes, it’s definitely something that should be looked at. I mean, we saw a similar situation some years ago with Russian oligarchs buying up lots of property. And so I think this is something that should be looked into,” he said.

Rogers added: “We’ve been advocating for some time for targeted sanctions against officials and entities in the Chinese government, both in Beijing and in Hong Kong, for what they’ve done in terms of the genocide in Xinjiang and the dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms.

“And I think as part of those sanctions, we would be encouraging the government to look at assets that belong to officials that are responsible for either atrocity crimes or the violations of the Sino-British joint declaration on Hong Kong, and should be freezing assets and potentially seizing property.”

“I think basically, we’ve been kind of asleep at the wheel, and either naive or just addicted to any kind of financial investment and enticement—or a combination of the two, perhaps,” he added.

“But yes, I think it definitely shouldn’t have been allowed to come this far because it’s clear that the CCP is a real threat to our freedoms and the more influence and presence they have in the UK, the more they’re able to exert their influence.”

Benedict Rogers, British human rights activist and East Asia Team Leader at nonprofit Christian Solidarity Worldwide, speaks at a rally commemorating the 20th anniversary of the persecution of Falun Gong in China on the West Lawn of Capitol Hill in Washington on Jul. 18, 2019. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Benedict Rogers, British human rights activist and East Asia Team Leader at nonprofit Christian Solidarity Worldwide, speaks at a rally commemorating the 20th anniversary of the persecution of Falun Gong in China on the West Lawn of Capitol Hill in Washington on Jul. 18, 2019. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Standing Up to China

Last month the Guardian reported how the Chinese regime owns a vast network of UK real estate via offshore secrecy jurisdictions, such as the Isle of Man or Luxembourg.

China’s investment division owns more than 250 properties across Britain through dozens of companies, the newspaper said.

They include distribution centres that are key to the flow of food and goods in multiple regions of the UK, including the south-west and south-east of England and the Midlands.

The Guardian report also stated that the property portfolio is held by the China Investment Corporation (CIC), which manages the foreign exchange reserves of the People’s Republic of China and is estimated to have more than £970 billion in of assets.

Land Registry records suggest that the CIC has spent at least £580 million on UK properties, although the true figure is likely to be significantly higher because some records are incomplete, the report stated.

Earlier this month, Liz Truss urged democratic nations to stand up to China.

Speaking in Japan in her first public speech since her resignation as prime minister, Truss called on the international community to agree a coordinated package of defence, economic, and political measures to support Taiwan.

Her comments came as her successor, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, faced pressures from some in his own party to take a firmer line on China.

Truss was addressing a conference in Tokyo organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), an international campaign group seeking to co-ordinate the response of democratic nations to Beijing.

Truss also said Taiwan’s international status needs to “reflect its global value,” and suggested its people should be able to “speak for themselves” in international organisations such as the World Health Organisation.

Truss said that in hindsight, heralding a “golden era” of UK-China relations and rolling out the red carpet “sent the wrong message.”

She added that the rise of “totalitarian China” is not inevitable, and that the “free world has a significant role to play.”

PA contributed to this report.