Prince Andrew facing questions over the sale of his mansion to Kazakh oligarch

Allegations come days after Palace strongly denied he was a fixer in an attempted £385 million Kazakhstan business deal

Adam Lusher
Monday 23 May 2016 16:02 BST
Prince Andrew is now facing questions over the sale of his Berkshire mansion
Prince Andrew is now facing questions over the sale of his Berkshire mansion

Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, is facing further questions about his business dealings after it was alleged he was more closely involved in the sale of his Berkshire mansion than had been previously claimed.

The allegations come two days after Buckingham Palace sources strenuously denied claims by the Daily Mail that Prince Andrew acted as a “fixer” in a Kazakhstan business deal from which he allegedly stood to make nearly £4 million in “commission.”

The Daily Mail has now claimed that despite the Palace having always insisted Prince Andrew had no direct involvement in the sale of Sunninghill Park, his private office was allegedly involved in discussing interior design, security, and the possible leasing of two fields bordering the property.

The 2007 sale has long been the source of controversy because the 12-bedroom mansion, mockingly nicknamed ‘Southyork’ because of its resemblance to the vulgar residence of oil baron JR Ewing in the soap opera Dallas, was bought for £3 million more than the £12 million asking price.

This was despite the fact that by the time of the sale, the mansion, given by the Queen as a wedding present to Prince Andrew and his then wife Sarah Ferguson, had been on the market for five years. And after the sale, Sunninghill reportedly stood empty and decaying for eight years before the bulldozers moved in to demolish the house last October.

The 2007 purchaser was listed as a firm based in the British Virgin Islands, but it was later reported that the buyer behind the offshore company was Timur Kulibayev, the oligarch son-in-law of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan.

As well as having visited Kazakhstan frequently when he was the UK’s trade envoy, The Duke of York has also been known to socialise with wealthy Kazakhs, including Goga Ashkenazi, who was widely reported to have had two children through an affair with Mr Kulibayev.

After the Sunninghill sale became public, however, spokespeople for Prince Andrew insisted there had been nothing untoward about the transaction, stating: “Any suggestion that he [the Duke of York] has abused his public position is completely untrue. The sale was a straight commercial transaction."

A spokesman for Mr Kulibayev was said to have told the Mail on Sunday in 2010 that the high price was just because “at the time of purchase we were told that there were several interested parties and therefore we simply paid the price that was requested.”

Negotiations for Prince Andrew were reportedly conducted on behalf of a trust headed by the Queen's leading financial adviser, Sir Alan Reid, and a representative of her lawyers Farrer & Co.

Royal spokespeople distanced Prince Andrew from the deal by insisting: “This was a private sale between two trusts.”

The Daily Mail, however, has now claimed that Prince Andrew’s private office was more directly involved in negotiations.

The newspaper has revealed what it says are leaked emails from Amanda Thirsk, Prince Andrew’s then deputy private secretary, discussing with the Crown Estate whether the purchaser could buy or lease two fields next to the house. This, the newspaper alleged, was because the Kazakh buyer was keen to enhance the security of the mansion and its surroundings.

Ms Thirsk was also alleged to have emailed the Kazakh oligarch Kenges Rakishev, who reportedly helped broker the Sunninghill sale, over whether it would be possible to have armed guards stationed around the property.

Ms Thirsk allegedly emailed Mr Rakishev on July 16 2007 to say: “It is not possible to organise armed security in the UK unless it is provided by the police.”

The Daily Mail also claimed that in the same email Ms Thirsk suggested that the buyer might like to hire Annabel Hall, the owner of a firm called Private Lives, to do the interior design of the mansion.

The Mail alleged that Ms Hall emailed the following week, saying it would be “a pleasure” to give the property a facelift since it “needs imaginative transformation from a tired, empty house into a warm and beautiful home for a young family”.

It is understood, however, that Buckingham Palace does not believe that the emails allegedly uncovered by the Mail show the Duke of York or his private office actively engaging in negotiations over the Sunninghill sale.

They are seen as merely showing someone in the Duke’s private office putting relevant parties in contact with each other without actively negotiating over the transaction.

Palace spokespeople, meanwhile, were standing by the earlier statements distancing Prince Andrew from the sale of Sunninghill Park.

A spokesman told The Independent: “The sale of Sunninghill Park was a straight commercial transaction between the trust which owned the house and the trust which bought it.”

In a further claim, however, the Mail said that in 2011, four years after Mr Kulibayev reportedly bought Sunninghill, Prince Andrew tried to help the Kazakh oligarch become a client of the Coutts, the bank used by the Royal Family.

The Daily Mail said that a month after the Court Circular suggested Prince Andrew had met with Rory Tapner, the CEO of Coutts and head of wealth management at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which owns Coutts, he emailed Mr Rakishev.

In an apparent attempt to engineer a meeting between Mr Tapner and Mr Kulibayev, Prince Andrew allegedly told Mr Rakishev: “If possible, I would like to have the CEO of RBS Wealth, Rory Tapner, and John Hourican, CEO Global Markets, come to Kaz [Kazakhstan] to see TK [Kulibayev] with a view to discuss Wealth Management and GBM [Global Banking Markets].

“Otherwise it could be arranged in London at TK's [Kulibayev's] convenience when or if he comes here next.”

The Daily Mail said it has now been told by Buckingham Palace that Prince Andrew, who “works to encourage economic growth in the United Kingdom” was trying to help Coutts make contact with overseas markets.

Prince Andrew with his daughters Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice on the Balcony at Buckingham Palace, 2013

The newspaper, however, claimed that the bank would not have sought a meeting with Mr Kulibayev.

It quoted a source at the bank as saying: “This was not, to put it mildly, a meeting that we would have been keen to take. Kazakh oligarchs are the sort of people we generally don't touch with a bargepole.”

A spokesman for Coutts and RBS declined to comment to The Independent.

A spokeswoman for Mr Hourican told The Independent that the executive, who left RBS more than three years ago, had not heard about the email until it was mentioned in the Daily Mail. The spokeswoman said: "John Hourican does not know the Duke of York, has no knowledge of this email and did not attend a meeting with Timur Kulibayev. Indeed, he has never been to Kazakhstan."

The claims come as Palace lawyers are understood to be looking at the earlier Daily Mail story which claimed the Duke helped a Greek and Swiss consortium in its efforts to secure a £385 million contract to build water and sewerage networks in two of Kazakhstan’s largest cities.

These allegations were dismissed by a Buckingham Palace spokesman who said: “Claims that the Duke of York acted as a so-called fixer for an international consortium and stood to benefit from a potential contract in Kazakhstan are untrue, defamatory and a breach of the Editor’s Code of Conduct.”

The Labour MP and former Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant, however, reacted to the allegations about the Kazakh water and sewerage deal by saying: “Prince Andrew has very questionable tastes when it comes to his business relationships.”

Referring to Prince Andrew’s time as UK trade envoy, which ended in 2011 when he stepped down following controversy over his friendship with the American financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, Mr Bryant added: “When I was at the Foreign Office it was very difficult to see in whose interests he was acting. There might be a little bit of business of Britain, but there was certainly always a lot of business for Andrew. He doesn’t exactly add lustre to the Royal diadem.”

Hugh Williamson, of Human Rights Watch, also claimed that there was little to suggest Prince Andrew had done anything to raise concerns about possible human rights abuses in Kazakhstan.

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