One of the top groups of fraud barristers in London has recently been revealed to be renting its premises from a landlord who has laundered millions in bribe money. It should be emphasised, however, that the barristers in question had no way of knowing about this ironic arrangement until a recent document leak, thanks to much-hated landlord privacy laws.
9-12 Bell Yard Chambers is based in premises formerly owned by Scottish Widows, but purchased by another company, PDB Properties Ltd, in 2015. A set of privacy laws, which have been not infrequently criticised meant that the owner of this shell company, which is incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, was under no obligation to reveal his identity. 9-12 Bell Yard Chambers’ landlord chose to exercise this right to anonymity, letting out the property only under the name of his company.
The reason he chose to remain anonymous is not hard to understand now that leaked documentation has revealed him to be a major money launderer. The barristers’ landlord, it turns out, is Expedito Machado, the son of Brazilian former senator Sergio Machado. The senior Machado was part of a major corruption scandal, accepting hefty bribes from contractors who were submitting bids for work. Machado junior was also implicated in the scandal, as he laundered this bribe money, totalling millions of dollars, in order to help his father carry out his profitable corruption in secret. When the scandal broke, the two cooperated with the authorities after managing to strike plea bargains.
It would certainly not be fair to call this a blunder by 9-12 Bell Yard Chambers. They had no idea, and no way of finding out, that they were renting their property from a figure like Sergio Machado and, perhaps ironically, this is because his privacy was protected by law. Even so, the fact that major fraud barristers were paying thousands in rent to a criminal of the kind they would normally deal with in a very different capacity. At best, this is ironic and at worst it is a blunder of the wider legal system in continuing, despite criticism, to allow landlords with criminal pasts to keep their identities secret when operating through shell companies.
The barristers will not be occupying Machado’s property much longer. This is not because they are leaving on principle but rather because they were already being forced out. Last year, plans were approved to convert the premises into luxury apartments. This must be all the more inconvenient for the barristers in question, considering their operation is named after the address which they will now no longer occupy.