Last week at the House of Commons, SNP MP Richard Arkless raised (from 3.48pm) the issue of money laundering in central Scotland. This should be one of the biggest stories in Scotland, yet it’s gone quiet since The Guardian wrote about it in May. We followed up here at the time with a local perspective and expected that the Scottish media would dig up the key details. It’s a peculiar business, therefore, that since then there hasn’t been a peep.
Richard Arkless says the cops are interested. We understand, indeed, that the cops told journalists much earlier this year that they were investigating. And yet after six months, with a live request from Libya for assets to be frozen and huge question marks hanging over a number of apparently-related businesses, it seems that the Scottish media has decided it’s just too risky to let anyone know about it.
However, whether the mainstream media folk are interested or not, this story is of great public interest. This story is essentially about Scotland’s ability to deal with a big league crime problem better than the UK – with London as the world capital of money laundering – ever can. Of course, small nations work closely with their neighbours on matters of crime and security. And Scotland will work with England in our common interest whether within the UK as now or independent as perhaps quite soon. That’s why when English politicians say that independence will threaten Scots’ security and safety, they know nothing could be further from the truth.
In the end with money laundering and related crimes, ‘beneficial ownership’ sits at the core of the whole problem. That is, the Scottish public has a right to know who is benefitting from the purchase and sale of land and large properties in Scotland. Where there is opaqueness, or downright secrecy, about who owns what then there is room for mischief. We do not say that the cases we outline below and in the coming days involve money laundering; but we do say that they bear the hallmarks of secrecy which can hint very strongly that something untowards might be going on. Perhaps the owners will answer our queries and remove our doubts, and if they do then we will publish their responses in full.
So, with that all said, let’s get down to business.
We have looked closely at a number of locations across Scotland. We’ve spoken to sources as far afield as Libya and the United States. Tonight, we bring you the first part of a story the mainstream Scottish media has ignored.
Taymouth Castle, whose policies include the beginning of the River Tay’s passage from Loch Tay to the Tay Estuary and which sits adjacent to the village of Kenmore, is one of Scotland’s most impressive buildings. If you stroll around delightful Kenmore, with its tidy main street and pleasant holiday village, however, you’d hardly know one of Scotland’s most outstanding buildings is just a few hundred yards away. Indeed, at the village post office we were told that the castle isn’t used for anything. In fact, that might not quite be right.
The castle is the result of a vast conversion and rebuild of an earlier castle carried out by the Campbells of Breadalbane in the early 19th Century. How they could afford it all is itself a gripping historical question. Still, at least we know who owned the castle and grounds then. We certainly can’t tell now. Or perhaps we can?
Last year, The Dundee Courier reported that a gent named Robin Barrasford had taken over Taymouth Castle from previous owners Meteor Asset Management. Meteor had, apparently, spent £23million on the building in a plan to turn it into a 6-star hotel. Now, Meteor had instead sold it on and the new plan was to turn the building into luxury time-share flats and a world-class restaurant. Barrasford, the report said; “has delivered 2500 holidays in 10 countries over the past decade”. Indeed, Barrasford and Bird is a legitimate company which markets properties and appears to serve as in effect an agent for owners. Robin Barrasford makes this clear in the Courier article: “I believe Taymouth has never been in such a good position as now. The estate has one owner, with no bank debt. That owner, a trust has brought us in with a lease so that Barrisford and Bird, a proven development company, can manage the whole thing. Before they relinquished all interests, the previous owners, Meteor Asset Management, spent upwards of £23m on the castle interior and grounds”.
Ah, so Barrasford and Bird aren’t the new owners but will instead co-ordinate the development and sales at the site. So if they’re not the owners of Taymouth Castle, who is?
Well, this is who owns Taymouth Castle and the surrounding policies. It’s Mount Two Limited, ‘Ras Al Khaimah, Free Trade Offshore Company IC20151382′. It’s a Dubai offshore company and not ‘a trust’ as apparently stated by Robin Barrasford (although he may well have been misinformed himself, and the term ‘trust’ is often used in the media without much checking as to its meaning). its interesting, though that Barrasford and Bird was reported by the Daily Record in January 2014 as developing Taymouth before it was sold to its present owners. Indeed, earlier in 2014, Barrasford and Bird put out a pamphlet advertising time-shared units within the castle for sale from £30k. Does the use of the same agents suggest continuity of ownership? And if so, why would a company sell something to itself having apparently taken a spanking loss with a failed project on that site?
Here’s some things we know about the recent ownership of Taymouth Castle. The castle was bought in 2005 from the McTaggart family, trading as Taymouth Castle Hotel Ltd, by Taymouth Group. This group was controlled by two men named French and Wellington. The price tag was £12million. There were a number of detail changes between 2005 and 2010, then in 2009 Taymouth group commenced insolvency proceedings. In 2010, FT property Holdings bought Taymouth Castle hotel Ltd, a title which may still have been held – without the castle – by the McTaggart family. In September 2010, Taymouth Estate Ltd was registered in Guernsey (it went into liquidation in May 2015). The new price tag was down to £7.9million. In 2010, the Dundee Courier reported that Meteor Assets Management was in discussions with KPMG, the administrators of Taymouth Castle about buying the 425 acre estate. In 2011, Taymouth Estate Ltd appears to have given the castle to Taymouth Castle Estates Ltd. This company gave Meteor Asset Management as its address. Local planning officials then confirmed that Meteor Asset had begun work on the castle. Meteor, it is reported, spent £23million developing the castle. By 2015, Taymouth Estate Ltd (now in liquidation) had sold a small element of the holding for £140,000 and in that year it transferred the remainder of the asset to Mount Two, the present owners, for £1.
So, over a period of 10 years, Taymouth Castle has changed hands for radically reducing prices. One developer apparently spent £23million, only to sell the castle on at a £3million loss. Meanwhile, what of the extensive development referred to last year by Robin Barrasford? Well, we invite readers to go and take a look. You can walk around the pristine grounds and admire the closed but very lovely golf course. There are no signs, whatever, of current or even recent development. Perhaps it is all completed? Yet there are no advertisements, sales offices or indeed any signs of activity. A wing of the castle has indeed been upgraded, of which more in our next post (the builders have since also gone into liquidation), but this does not suggest that there exist units inside which could be bought and sold as functioning, let alone luxurious, new units. There is not the slightest sign at the site that there suites are for sale inside.
What kind of businesses invest heavily in property then apparently spend a fortune on developing it, only to leave it empty for years on end? What kind of marketers or product have such a low profile?
We have discovered that there appears to be a close relationship between the ownership of the castle and the ownership of the adjacent Kenmore Hotel. Readers should go back to the picture on the Guardian article at the top of this piece. And from there, there are close links to properties across Scotland. This post has become a very long one, and so we will post more in two days if readers indicate that they would be interested to read more via Twitter or the comments facility below. Believe us, there’s plenty more where all this came from…..