By Nicholas Shaxon, Vanity Fair, April 2013 issue
Who really lives at One Hyde Park, called the world’s most expensive residential building? Its mostly absentee owners, hiding behind offshore corporations based in tax havens, provide a portrait of the new global super-wealthy.
[....] to understand why so much of the world’s money goes to London in the first place, you need to go back hundreds of years, to the emergence of what must be the most peculiar, the oldest, the least understood, and perhaps one of the most important institutions in the menagerie of global finance: the City of London Corporation. It is the local authority for “the Square Mile,” the pocket of prime financial real estate centered on the Bank of England and located about three miles to the east of Knightsbridge, along the Thames River. But the corporation is also much more, its identity embedded in—and slightly apart from—the British nation-state. The corporation has its own constitution, “rooted in the ancient rights and privileges enjoyed by citizens before the Norman Conquest, in 1066,” and its own lord mayor of London—not to be confused with the mayor of London, who runs the Greater London metropolis [....]
The lord mayor’s principal official role, his Web site says, is to be “ambassador for all UK-based financial and professional services.” He lobbies far afield, with offices in Brussels, China, and India, among other places, the better to “expound the values of liberalization” far and wide. The City Corporation and closely linked think tanks issue streams of publications explaining why finance should be less tethered by taxes and regulation. The corporation also has its own official lobbyist, with the delightfully medieval-sounding name of The Remembrancer (currently one Paul Double), lodged permanently in Britain’s Parliament. Local elections in the City are unlike any other in Britain: multi-national corporations vote alongside and vastly outnumber the tiny borough’s 7,400 human residents. Over the centuries the City has thrived, thanks to a simple advantage: it has had money to lend when governments or monarchs needed it. So the City has been granted special privileges, allowing it to remain a political fortress withstanding the tides of history that have transformed the rest of the British nation-state. It has nurtured a British tradition of welcoming foreign money, with few questions asked, and so has for centuries attracted the world’s wealthiest citizens. “There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian transact together,” Voltaire wrote in 1733 [....]