GUY ADAMS: Was Andrew and Fergie's Southyork bought to launder millions for a Kazakh tycoon? That's the claim in an explosive legal battle which threatens to plunge the Duke of York into a fresh crisis

  • S‑RM alleges Sunninghill Park was bought to laun­der mon­ey for a Kazakh tycoon
  • Prince Andrew offloaded the one-time mar­i­tal home to chum Timur Kulibayev 
  • Mr Kulibayev reg­is­tered it to a cor­po­ra­tion based in the British Virgin Islands

On a five-acre plot just out­side Windsor Great Park, sur­round­ed by farm­land and acces­si­ble only by pri­vate road, is one of high-end real estate’s most famous white elephants.

Sunninghill Park is the one-time mar­i­tal home of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, who received the 12-bed­room new-build as a gift from the Queen when they mar­ried in 1986.

Compared sneer­ing­ly to a giant branch of Tesco (albeit with­out the faux clock tow­er), the red-brick prop­er­ty was also nick­named ‘Southyork’ because of its resem­blance to Southfork, the oil baron J. R. Ewing’s sprawl­ing, vul­gar man­sion in the Eighties TV soap opera Dallas

Prince Andrew and chum Goga Ashkenazi pic­tured togeth­er at Tyringham Hall, Buckinghamshire, in 2010

The inte­ri­or back then was sim­i­lar­ly brash, with lit­tle expense spared — its sur­faces cov­ered with mar­ble, pol­ished pine, deep-pile car­pet and high­ly ques­tion­able wallpaper.

In a 36ft, first-floor mas­ter bed­room, the cou­ple’s mar­i­tal head­board was sur­round­ed by an elab­o­rate mint-green flo­ral canopy.

An oval, free­stand­ing bath in their ensuite afford­ed sweep­ing views over ster­ile lawns and neat­ly clipped shrubbery.

A spi­ral stair­case led from its bal­cony to the swim­ming pool. Library shelves were filled with fake books, con­ceal­ing a safe, while a down­stairs loo was kit­ted out with musi­cal toi­let-roll hold­ers that played God Save The Queen.

Guests report­ed that tow­els, flan­nels, hand soaps and even loo paper had been embossed with the cou­ple’s ini­tials: A & S.

It was, nonethe­less, a per­fect­ly ser­vice­able coun­try seat for a cou­ple who — despite divorc­ing in 1996 — main­tained a fam­i­ly life that saw them freely fre­quent Windsor Castle, Sunninghill Golf Club, Ascot race­course and (at least once, noto­ri­ous­ly) a branch of Pizza Express in near­by Woking.

Until, that is, the Queen Mother’s death in 2002, after which Andrew moved into far posh­er digs, in the shape of her near­by pile, Royal Lodge.

Sunninghill Park is the one-time mar­i­tal home of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, who received the 12-bed­room new-build as a gift from the Queen when they mar­ried in 1986 

Sunninghill was duly placed on the mar­ket for £12million. It lan­guished unsold (and, from 2006, unin­hab­it­ed) for five long years, until the prince man­aged to offload it to an exceed­ing­ly wealthy Kazakh chum called Timur Kulibayev.

The son-in-law of the coun­try’s despot­ic President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Mr Kulibayev, who had held senior posi­tions in a num­ber of state-owned indus­tri­al firms, coughed up £15million — or 25 per cent over the ask­ing price — before reg­is­ter­ing the prop­er­ty to a cor­po­ra­tion based in the secre­tive tax haven of the British Virgin Islands.

Rather than tak­ing up res­i­dence, how­ev­er, the oli­garch — who, while mar­ried to the Kazakh dic­ta­tor’s daugh­ter Dinara, has fathered two ille­git­i­mate sons with his glam­orous mis­tress Goga Ashkenazi (who, in turn, is a chum of Prince Andrew) — elect­ed to leave his new man­sion to rot.

Empty and decay­ing, its swim­ming pool filled with sludge and the ten­nis court became caked with moss.

Patios cracked, gut­ters leaked, doors rot­ted, rose beds were throt­tled by bram­bles and the roof became home to 100 bats.

By 2009, Bracknell Forest Council, con­cerned at the crum­bling state of the res­i­dence, briefly threat­ened to use pow­ers grant­ed to it by the Housing Act to seize it for use as a home­less refuge.

Eventually, in 2015, the whole place was razed. Planning per­mis­sion had by then been grant­ed for Mr Kulibayev to cre­ate what his blue-chip archi­tects HOK dubbed ‘a mod­ern inter­pre­ta­tion of a coun­try house’, com­plete with six ensuite bed­rooms, a sauna, ice room, steam room, gym, treat­ment room and games parlour.

That was sev­en years ago. Today, while most of the major struc­tur­al work appears to be com­plete, much of the prop­er­ty remains a mud­dy con­struc­tion site, with bags of build­ing mate­ri­als, a pile of rub­ble and a skip vis­i­ble on the dri­ve­way and a ground-floor wing still open to the elements.

Upstairs win­dows were shut­tered when the Daily Mail vis­it­ed this week, while signs on a tem­po­rary wood­en fence pro­claimed that a com­pa­ny of for­mer Gurkha sol­diers pro­vid­ed security.

Bits of for­mal gar­den had been plant­ed, but oth­ers remained des­o­late. The ten­nis courts are still derelict.

With no one liv­ing there, this pres­ti­gious prop­er­ty has­n’t been a home for 16 years.

And if all that was­n’t pecu­liar enough, a curi­ous new chap­ter in Sunninghill Park’s che­quered his­to­ry is about to play out at the High Court in London.

The prop­er­ty’s uncon­ven­tion­al 2007 sale by Prince Andrew is at the cen­tre of a legal bat­tle that pits a long­stand­ing busi­ness asso­ciate of Mr Kulibayev, one Arvind Tiku, against the British ‘intel­li­gence and cyber-secu­ri­ty’ firm S‑RM.

Before Christmas, Mr Tiku, a 51-year-old Indian bil­lion­aire, filed an 18-page law­suit accus­ing the com­pa­ny, whose HQ is in the City of London, of breach­ing his data pro­tec­tion rights. It pro­duced a report that alleges, among oth­er things, that Sunninghill Park was bought to laun­der mon­ey obtained via the unlaw­ful sale of Kazakh state assets.

Sunninghill lan­guished unsold (and, from 2006, unin­hab­it­ed) for five long years, until the prince man­aged to offload it to an exceed­ing­ly wealthy Kazakh chum called Timur Kulibayev (pic­tured in 2012)

The claim — denied by both Mr Kulibayev and Mr Tiku — appears to have been made in a ‘com­pli­ance due dili­gence’ doc­u­ment that S‑RM was hired to com­pile for the invest­ment bank Morgan Stanley in 2015.

The report alleged that Singapore-based Mr Tiku is a ‘trust­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tive’ of Mr Kulibayev, who holds finan­cial assets on his behalf to help con­ceal them.

Both Mr Tiku and Mr Kulibayev insist oth­er­wise, say­ing they have what the Indian busi­ness­man calls ‘an arms-length com­mer­cial relationship’.

Specifically, the S‑RM report told Morgan Stanley: ‘There are rea­son­able grounds to sus­pect that [Mr Tiku] has engaged in trans­ac­tions to embez­zle sev­er­al hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars from the sale of Kazakh state-owned assets and laun­der the pro­ceeds through Europe-based bank accounts and prop­er­ty pur­chas­es, includ­ing Sunninghill Park.’

The report, which appears to have been com­mis­sioned while Morgan Stanley was con­sid­er­ing whether to do busi­ness with Mr Tiku, con­clud­ed that he ‘rep­re­sents a medi­um cor­rup­tion, rep­u­ta­tion­al and source-of-wealth risk for a finan­cial ser­vice provider’.

In the law­suit, Mr Tiku says var­i­ous claims, includ­ing the alle­ga­tion about Sunninghill Park, are based on ‘false and mali­cious’ accu­sa­tions made by a ‘noto­ri­ous­ly unre­li­able’ Kazakh oppo­si­tion figure.

He fur­ther argues that both Swiss and Kazakh author­i­ties looked into mon­ey-laun­der­ing alle­ga­tions for three years, clos­ing their inquiries in 2013 with­out charges being brought, or action taken.

Mr Tiku, who is report­ed to have a net worth of £1.63billion, com­plains that air­ing these and oth­er alle­ga­tions in the report have dam­aged his ‘per­son­al dig­ni­ty, auton­o­my and integri­ty’ and caused him ‘anx­i­ety and dis­tress’. He is demand­ing dam­ages of £50,000.

A spokesman said this week the alle­ga­tions were ‘entire­ly false and he is will­ing to prove his case in the English court’.

Mr Kulibayev describes the alle­ga­tions about him in the report as both false and defam­a­to­ry. S‑RM has not com­ment­ed, but is under­stood to be con­test­ing the case.

Reputations are, in oth­er words, on the line. And while Prince Andrew is unlike­ly to be per­son­al­ly dragged into what is a civ­il rather than crim­i­nal case, he’s unlike­ly to rel­ish the pecu­liar cir­cum­stances of Sunninghill’s sale being pored over in court.

Mr Kulibayev is the son-in-law of the coun­try’s despot­ic President Nursultan Nazarbayev (pic­tured in 2005). Mr Kulibayev had held senior posi­tions in a num­ber of state-owned indus­tri­al firms

Neither will Mr Kulibayev, who, when ini­tial­ly acquir­ing the prop­er­ty, reg­is­tered its own­er in the Land Registry as Unity Assets Corporation, based in the British Virgin Islands.

This had the effect of ini­tial­ly keep­ing his involve­ment secret. But Unity, it turned out, was owned — via a com­plex maze of oth­er enti­ties — by Kipros Limited Liability Partnership, reg­is­tered in Almaty, the for­mer cap­i­tal of Kazakhstan.

It was only by access­ing local records there that one could estab­lish that the whole thing was con­trolled by Mr Kulibayev.

Unpicking this cor­po­rate web took jour­nal­ists three years. Even then, the oli­garch appeared uncom­fort­able with being linked to Sunninghill.

I am not the own­er and I don’t know why you are ask­ing me these ques­tions,’ he told a reporter from The Sunday Times in 2010, sug­gest­ing the news­pa­per speak to ‘my peo­ple’ if it had fur­ther queries.

Three days lat­er, how­ev­er, his lawyers clar­i­fied the sit­u­a­tion, say­ing: ‘Sunninghill was pur­chased by and is still owned by com­pa­nies that are legal­ly owned by Mr Kulibayev.’

There is also what one might char­i­ta­bly call con­fu­sion over Prince Andrew’s exact role in the house sale.

At the time the deal went through, Buckingham Palace issued a state­ment say­ing he’d had no involve­ment in what was ‘a straight com­mer­cial trans­ac­tion between the trust which owned the house and the trust which bought it’.

However, it sub­se­quent­ly emerged that the duke’s ‘straight com­mer­cial trans­ac­tions’ are about as con­ven­tion­al as his ‘straight­for­ward shoot­ing week­ends’ — his infa­mous ref­er­ence to an event at Sandringham attend­ed by his friend and con­vict­ed pae­dophile Jeffrey Epstein.

In 2016, I was leaked a raft of emails reveal­ing that the duke had actu­al­ly been inti­mate­ly involved in the sale, tak­ing part in a high­ly uncon­ven­tion­al nego­ti­a­tion for Mr Kulibayev to lease two fields next to the man­sion from the Crown Estate, the organ­i­sa­tion that man­ages land on behalf of the taxpayer.

That deal, by which the exist­ing ten­ant, a farmer, stood to be turfed off the land, was per­son­al­ly nego­ti­at­ed by Andrew’s then pri­vate sec­re­tary, Amanda Thirsk.

It would have seen the Crown Estate paid just £200 an acre per year by the Kazakhs, a sum described by one land agent with knowl­edge of it as ‘some­thing of a pep­per­corn rent’.

Comically, the emails also showed that dur­ing face-to-face meet­ings with Mrs Thirsk, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Mr Kulibayev had asked if he would be allowed to install their own gun-tot­ing guards on the premis­es, a short dri­ve from Windsor Castle.

She diplo­mat­i­cal­ly respond­ed: ‘It is not pos­si­ble to organ­ise armed secu­ri­ty in the UK unless it is pro­vid­ed by the police. There is no mech­a­nism that allows payment.’

Also intrigu­ing was a tranche of mes­sages that sug­gest­ed Mr Kulibayev and Prince Andrew had con­tin­ued to dis­cuss finan­cial mat­ters long after the sale for the for­mer roy­al home.

It emerged that in 2011, the prince made an attempt to arrange for Coutts, the Queen’s bank, to take the Kazakh oli­garch on as a client.

Having per­son­al­ly met with the CEO of Coutts, Rory Tapner, the prince asked if senior fig­ures at state-owned RBS, which owned Coutts, could trav­el to Kazakhstan to meet the bil­lion­aire who’d bought his for­mer home in order to dis­cuss ‘wealth management’.

His email — signed ‘The Duke’ — added that, if that did­n’t work, a meet­ing ‘could be arranged in London’.

The whole thing put Coutts in a dif­fi­cult posi­tion, since it nev­er takes busi­ness via refer­rals (even roy­al ones) and as a mat­ter of pol­i­cy was reluc­tant to sign up any wealthy clients from Kazakhstan. As a result, the bank refused to play ball with Andrew’s plan.

Also in the pub­lic domain, by this stage, were colour­ful details of how the sale had come to pass.

In 2010, it had emerged that Mr Kulibayev had hired a char­tered sur­vey­or named Mark Cohen to appraise Sunninghill.

A leaked copy of his report stat­ed that the ‘tired and out­dat­ed’ home lacked the ‘Wow Factor’ and was worth about only £8million on the open mar­ket and as lit­tle as £6.4million at auction.2019: Duke of York Prince Andrew tees off at Royal Portrush

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Externally, [the] house has been neglect­ed over recent years and was in a tired state of repair and con­di­tion,’ Cohen wrote. ‘Internally, the house was also in a tired dec­o­ra­tive state of repair and condition…There are no real dis­cern­ing fea­tures to [sic] with­in the house which mate­ri­al­ly stand out that give the so-called “Wow Factor” that many pur­chasers today now look for.’

Despite this assess­ment, Mr Kulibayev autho­rised the pur­chase, which, it was even­tu­al­ly estab­lished, saw three sep­a­rate com­pa­nies pro­vide the £15million that Prince Andrew was paid for Sunninghill.

Merix, the par­ent firm of reg­is­tered own­er Unity Assets Corporation, put up the £1.5million deposit, while a Hong Kong-reg­is­tered com­pa­ny, Enviro Pacific Investments, based in Singapore, pro­vid­ed £6million.

The third organ­i­sa­tion, Oilex NV, a com­pa­ny reg­is­tered at the time in the Dutch Antilles, and ulti­mate­ly owned by Arvind Tiku, came up with the remain­ing £8million.

Asked about the deal, Mr Tiku said at the time that the deci­sion to pay £3million over the ask­ing price for a prop­er­ty that had been on the mar­ket unsold for five years had come about because of a brief­ing from Prince Andrew’s camp that oth­er par­ties were inter­est­ed in it.

We can con­firm at the time of pur­chase we were told that there were sev­er­al inter­est­ed par­ties,’ said his spokesman. ‘Therefore we sim­ply paid the price that was requested.’

That state­ment was issued in late 2010, when Mr Tiku per­haps thought it would put the mat­ter to rest.

But the oppo­site seems true: 11 years after he issued those remarks, and 16 since Sunninghill Park was last inhab­it­ed, the sur­re­al saga of Southyork con­tin­ues — just one of many prob­lems fac­ing the Queen’s favourite son.

Original source of arti­cle: DAILY MAIL