from the cheap seats .....
Only nine of the 62 apartments sold in One Hyde Park - the world's most expensive residential block - have been registered for council tax.
The ownership of the Knightsbridge apartments, which range in price from £3.6m for a one-bedroom flat to £136m for a penthouse, is now under investigation by Westminster city council, which is determined to pursue the monies owed by the secretive owners of the apartments.
Council records show that only four owners are paying the full council tax of £755.60 a year plus £619.64 to the Greater London Authority, while five are paying the 50% discounted council tax owed on a second home.
Westminster has received no response from the developer of One Hyde Park, Project Grande (Guernsey), managed by billionaire brothers Nick and Christian Candy, to a written request sent two weeks ago asking for the names of the remaining apartment owners. Officials are now researching Land Registry records for the exclusive block, sandwiched between Harvey Nichols and the Serpentine. However, the myriad offshore companies protecting the identities of residents are, according to sources at the council, likely to defeat them.
An analysis of the records by the Observer shows that 25 of the flats' registered owners are companies in the British Virgin Islands. Other offshore tax havens used to purchase the properties include Guernsey, the Cayman Islands, Liechtenstein and Liberia.
Council officials are now expecting to canvass the apartments door-to-door, although sources said there were concerns that the building's security, including its SAS-trained doormen, could prove an obstacle.
Karen Buck, the Labour MP for Westminster north, said she expected the council to act quickly to recoup the tax from One Hyde Park's residents. She voiced concern that the super-rich in London were not paying their way, saying: "When council spending is under unprecedented pressure, it is scandalous that residents in luxury apartments can avoid their share of council tax liability. It sometimes seems as if the more money you have the less you are required to pay."
A council may apply to a magistrate for a warrant to imprison a council tax debtor if they are refusing to pay but have the means.
The revelation follows claims by Liberal Democrats that up to £750m is lost every year to the exchequer when house purchases are hidden behind off-shore companies.
Future buyers of properties already sold at One Hyde Park have the option of avoiding stamp duty by buying the companies that own them and assuming control without triggering a taxable property transfer.
A spokeswoman for the Candy brothers denied that the developer was required to provide the identities of the owners of their apartments. She said: "Once the apartment is sold, it is not the developer's responsibility to register the new owner with the council. This is the responsibility of the owner. I have spoken with the developer and they haven't received the Westminster city council letter you are referring to but they have assured me that they will co-operate as required."
Councillor Philippa Roe, Westminster council's cabinet member for strategic finance, said: "In instances where a developer has sold a number of new flats but has not informed the local authority for tax purposes, the council would write to the developer and ask for details of the new owners, including the dates when the properties were sold.
"If we do not receive a response from the developers, we would use other methods to get this information such as Land Registry searches and visits to the property. Any council tax owed to the local authority will be back dated and collected accordingly."
"For the first time in the 200 year run of the free market system, we have built & expanded an entire integrated global financial structure, the basic purpose of which is to shift money from poor to rich. (It is) the ugliest chapter in global economic affairs since slavery ...."
Raymond W. Baker, a senior fellow at the US Center for International Policy & guest scholar at the Brookings Institution.