Offshore accounts hide true identity of Scotland's owners

By Torcuil Crichtonand Andy Whightman, Sunday Herald, Online Edition, Scotland.
Publication Date: Apr 2 2000

MORE than 750,000 acres of rural Scotland held in private ownership is registered with offshore companies that avoid UK taxation and hide the true identity of the owners.

The examination of the title deeds of Highland estates shows that more than 50 of them, accounting for 4.5% of all privately-owned land in rural Scotland, are registered to companies in tax havens ranging from the Dutch Antilles to Liechtenstien.

The estates vary in size from the 63,000 acre Killilan and Inverinate estate, owned by racehorse owner Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai, to the 1700 acres of Strollamus in Skye, registered in the name of the Macfarlane (St Helier) Corporation in Andorra. Several investigations over the years have failed to establish the true owners of Strollamus. The company office, high in the Pyrennian principality between Spain and France, consists of little more than a nameplate on a side street door.

Although several of the estates uncovered by the research are in foreign ownership, many are in the hands of UK residents. The 45,000 acre Langwell and Braemore estate, registered in the name of Wellbeck Estates Company Ltd, is owned by the Duke of Portland. The Tarbert Estate of 19,500 acres on Jura, registered to the Bahamas-based Ginge Manor Estates Ltd, is owned by Viscount Astor.

The true level of offshore ownership of Scottish land is likely to be much higher than inquiries have so far revealed. Many estates are owned by UK registered companies whose shareholders are offshore.

None of the offshore estates will pay capital gains tax on their assets if ownership is transferred, and inheritance tax is also avoided. The companies can also benefit from agricultural, environmental and forestry grants without the identity of the beneficiaries ever being revealed.

Despite pressure from land cam paigners, the Scottish Executive has made it clear it will not force estates to reveal the identity of the beneficial owners. In its land reform package, parliament took the view that any proposals to investigate offshore ownership would be useless against the stringent privacy laws of many of the tax havens. The alternative, forcing a duty to disclose titles or to make offshore ownership incompetent under Scottish law, has not been considered by the government.

The effects on a community of living under anonymous offshore ownership have been amply demonstrated in Durness, in the north of Scotland, where tenants have absolutely no idea who the real owner of the 9400 acre estate is.

Until last week, the land was registered in the principality of Liechtenstien under the name of Vibel SA but under a legal challenge from a local crofter, ownership was quickly transferred to Ian Wilson, a Dunblane-based mineral developer, who already has claims on the mineral rights.

Wilson, who also has a lease of the mineral rights at the proposed super quarry site at Lingerbay, in the south of Harris, has plans for a more modest development at Loch Eriboll, near Durness, and has acted as a factor for Vibel, in Durness.

The change of ownership came about just before a scheduled Scottish Land Court hearing on the crofter's case.

Hugh MacLellan had been trying to buy his croft at Laid in Sutherland for almost two years but the move was opposed by Vibel SA.

The company was willing to let him buy his house and garden, although it was concerned that sale of the croft land could jeopardise potential mineral developments at Loch Eriboll.

The court hearing was cancelled when MacLellan heard that the estate was now agreeing to his demands. Delighted to have ownership of his croft, he remains disappointed not to have more information on Vibel. "I wanted to find out more about them," said MacLennan.

It is just the latest twist in a long tale of eccentric management by Vibel SA, which has frustrated many crofters' aspirations. Nobody remembered any representative from Vibel SA visiting the estate until last year, when Wilson appeared to collect seven years' worth of rent.

Wilson, whose superquarry plans have been frustrated by planning inquiries and environmental opposition, has no intention of revealing the identity of the previous owners, although many suspect the estate has been in his hands all along. "They have no wish to go public in any shape or form," he told the Herald last week. "They are getting phased out of the picture, end of story."

Full list of Hidden Estates

Publication Date: Apr 2 2000

Investigations by Andy Whightman, Scotland's leading land researcher, have uncovered more than 50 rural estates which are owned by offshore companies. The real owners of these 750,000 acres of Scotland cannot be traced even though many of them will be domiciled Scots. As well as buying anonymity the owners avoid UK taxes including capital gains tax and inheritance tax. At the same time they are eligible for agricultural, environmental and forestry grants from the public purse without revealing who the beneficiaries are.
Torcuil Crichton

Aberdeen Kildrummy & Towie 6200 Kildrummy (Jersey) Ltd. Not Reg UK
Angus Millden 18700 Millden Estate Ltd. Not Reg UK
Argyll Inversanda 2200 Orion Holdings Ltd. British Virgin Islands
Argyll Ardchrishnish & Ormsaig 1200 Haighall Holdings Ltd . Jersey
Argyll Ardrishaig Forest & Drimlussa 2105 Saxe Coburg Gotha Family Trust Not Reg UK
Argyll Carskiey & Mull of Kintyre 7000 Carskey Aktiengesellschaft Liechtenstein
Argyll Loch Romain 2231 Protec Trust Management Establishment Liechtenstein
Argyll Glen Massan 4900 Glenmassan Ltd. Isle of man
Argyll Glenure or Glencreran 12350 Establissement Entraide et Solidarite Liechtenstein
Argyll Tarbert Estate 19500 Ginge Manor Estates Ltd Bahamas
Argyll Stonefield Forestry 2859 Ria Holdings Ltd. Jersey
Ayr Auchenlongford 1435 Gong Hill Ltd. Not Reg UK
Banff Glenavon 41200 Andras Ltd. Cayman Islands
Caithness Langwell & Braemore 45000 Wellbeck Estates Company Ltd. Not Reg UK
Caithness Sandside 9600 Glenminster Ltd. Not Reg UK
Dumfries Aberlosk & Over Dalgliesh Forest 4440 Owl Forest Ltd. Not Reg UK
Inverness Balmacaan Deer Forest 19300 Balmac Forest Ltd. Guernsey
Inverness Ben Alder & Strathmashie 28625 Argo Invest Overseas Ltd. (& Hanbury family) Guernsey
Inverness Braeroy 23500 Semer Holdings SA Not Reg UK
Inverness Camusrory 8129 Camusrory Estate Ltd. Bahamas
Inverness Corrour 48224 Verdandi Investment Co. Ltd. Cayman Islands
Inverness Dundreggan Estate 9000 Dundreggan Estate Ltd. Liechtenstein
Inverness Dunmaglass 13000 Dunmaglass Estates Ltd. Not Reg UK
Inverness Glenfintaig Estate 2133 Stellar Ltd. Jersey
Inverness Inverailort & Ranachan 13100 Cairns Number Three Settlement Jersey
Inverness Kilchoan 12800 Kilchoan Estate Ltd. Guernsey
Inverness Scalpay, Longay & Guillamon 6233 Ibercasa Anstalt Liechtenstein
Inverness Strollamus 1700 Macfarlane (St Helier) Corporation Andorra
Inverness Struy 8400 Over Rankeilour Farms Ltd. Not Reg UK
Inverness Balmacaan Estate 4643 Arran Ltd. Liberia
Inverness Dalmigarry 4644 Supreme Leader Inc. British Virgin Islands
Inverness Moll Estate II 1449 Dyras Holdings Ltd. Isle of Man
Inverness Arisaig Estate 8100 Amphill Investments Ltd. British Virgin Islands
Inverness Braulen 29600 Andras Ltd. Cayman Islands
Inverness Amhuinnsuidhe (part) 7000 Ennessy Co & Svenno SA Not Reg UK
Lanark Carmacoup & Penbreck 3700 Illaria Ltd. Not Reg UK
Peebles Hearthstanes & others 5400 Multioptique International Ltd. & EGW (UK) Ltd. Not Reg UK
Perth Dalnacardoch Estate 18000 Hunting Stalcair Ltd. British Virgin Islands
Perth Blackford Farms 20000 Park Tower Holdings Establishment Not Reg UK
Perth Camusericht 10400 Abacus Trust Co. Not Reg UK
Perth Craiganour 20200 Astel Ltd. Jersey
Perth Corrievarkie 5700 Compania Financiera Waterville SA Panama
Ross & Cromarty Fannich 9100 Medieval Industries Inc. Panama
Ross & Cromarty Gledfield Estate 5650 Investments Bermuda Ltd Bermuda
Ross & Cromarty Killilan & Inverinate 63140 Smech Properties Ltd. Guernsey
Ross & Cromarty Letterewe & Heights of Kinlochewe 81000 Clyde Properties NV & others Dutch Antilles
Ross & Cromarty Sheildaig Farm 1637 Dubh nan Cailleach Ltd. Not Reg UK
Scotland-wide Various Properties 25851 Greentop Lands & Estates Ltd. Liechtenstein
Sutherland Durness 9400 Vibel S.A. Liechtenstein
Sutherland Glen Cassley 10688 Glencassley Ltd. Guernsey
Sutherland Glen Rossal 2200 Casquets Ltd. Not Reg UK
Sutherland Invercassley & Duchally 26400 Bocardo Societe Anonyme Liechtenstein

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