Stuff Dictators Like #2: Living in London

Dictators and their families love London. This city has a long history as a refuge for the rich and politically suspect, including scions of the Gaddafi family and Teodorin Obiang, son of the Equitorial Guinea’s dictator of 30 years, whose spending on yachts and luxury mansions dwarfed his country’s combined health and education budget. Gamal and Alaa Mubarak reportedly arrived in London in February after the Egyptian revolution put an end to their father’s regime.

Knightsbridge is the address of choice for toppled despots, but most neighbourhoods on the Picadilly Line between Green Park and South Kensington are highly desirable (not that former dictators and their families travel by tube, that is).

Deposed despots’ wives also love London; Sarah Kyolaba Amin (Idi Amin’s former wife) allegedly works as an events organiser in Tottenham these days, while Sebha Begum Musharraf can be found pottering around Knightsbridge.

At Home with the Musharrafs

And London loves dictators too, as highlighted rather embarrassingly by events of recent weeks. The LSE and SOAS (The Ajnabee‘s alma mater) have both been tarred by associations with the Gaddafi family. Prince Andrew has been at the heart of a media frenzy in recent weeks thanks to his friendships with Saif Gaddafi and Kazakh oil tycoon and society beauty  Goga Ashkenazi.

Disturbingly, a whole industry seems to have grown up in London around meeting the needs of the global super-rich and super-dodgy. This article from the FT over the weekend, ‘The London Laundry’ by Matthew Engel explains how London has become a one-stop shop for services including ‘reputational management’, advice on tax avoidance, expensive schools and luxury retail:

“The country that famously lost an empire but had yet to find a role had finally found one: a full-service bolt-hole and pit stop for the mega-rich, however their gains were gotten.

Only within the past week, when the extent of Prince Andrew’s links to assorted oligarchs, despots and dubious tycoons became general knowledge, have the British started to realise just what a haven they are offering.

“Good schools, Harrods, and a co-operative attitude to the reputationally challenged: for the recently retired Mr and Mrs Dictator in a hurry, there’s still nowhere like London,” says one private banker with a mildly subversive view of his own high-net-worth clients. (He spoke on the condition of anonymity.)”

Harrods Deparment Store: The Cornershop of the Damned?

How the hell did we allow this to happen? I’m a Londoner myself and I am appalled that we’ve allowed ourselves to become the global destination of choice for ‘Mr and Mrs retired Dictator’. As Engel points out in the FT, the dictum ‘as long as they pay their taxes’ doesn’t even seem to apply any more, since many of these people clearly don’t contribute a penny of their ill-gotten wealth to the public coffers. It’s one thing to be ok with people being ‘filthy rich’, but Britain’s level of relaxation about people ‘getting rich filthily’ (Engel’s phrase) has now gone beyond a joke. Is this really what we want our capital city to be known for?

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One Response to “Stuff Dictators Like #2: Living in London”

  1. lol oh tht Musharraf!

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