by Andy Wightman and Carole Ross

Buccleuch Estates Ltd.

Mr Richard Scott (sometimes referred to as the Duke of Buccleuch) is frequently cited as the owner of the largest extent of private land in the United Kingdom. Yet, this has never been entirely accurate. The 242,000 acres of land in Scotland is owned not by Mr Scott, but mainly by a company called Buccleuch Estates Ltd.

The shares in Buccleuch Estates Ltd. are not owned by Mr Scott and his family but by two companies – Anderson Strathern Nominees Ltd and MDS Estates Ltd.

Anderson Strathern Nominees Ltd. is a dormant company which is wholly owned by Anderson Strathern Asset Management Ltd. Anderson Strathern Asset Management Ltd. is wholly owned by Anderson Strathern LLP which, in turn is owned by the 53 partners in the law firm.

MS Estates Ltd. is wholly owned by Anderson Strathern Nominees Ltd. though the Directors include Mr Scott and other family members

Anderson Strathern Nominees Ltd. is ….. (but you know this).

So the ultimate owner of Buccluech Estates Ltd are 53 solicitors?

Well, not quite. Because what the Nominees do is to act on behalf of persons unknown on their behalf. These persons are likely to be members of the Scott family but we can’t know because the arrangements are not made public.

The first inkling I ever got that there was something odd about Buccleuch’s arrangements was 20 years ago in 1995. I was helping Philip Beresford compile the Sunday Times Rich List and he faxed me a copy of a letter he had received from Richard Scott’s father.

Dear Sir,

Much as I would like to be No. 33 in your chart of the richest 500, I fear I am there under false pretences.

As you rightly mention the calculation is based upon a hypothetical valuation of works of art. What you may not realise is that if I were to sell items in the collection, 80% of the proceeds would go straight to the Treasury. This is because 80% was the rate applicable to my father’s estate when he died in 1973. 

My worth on that score should therefore be reduced from £200m to £40m and as I own no shares in Buccleuch Estates Ltd., I might find myself level-pegging with Gordon Baxter and Sean Connery. 

Can you please take this into account next time? 

In recent years the top rate of inheritance tax was reduced to 40% but even this would affect the positioning of many others whose worth is based upon art collections. 

Yours faithfully 

Buccleuch

Two things stood out in this letter which would later become of interest. Buccleuch’s art works were the subject of a heritage tax exemption (meaning that the public could have access at certain times in exchange for a deferral of inheritance tax) and that Buccleuch, despite being regarded as the owner of Buccleuch Estates, admits that he owned no shares in the company.

A few years later and at his request, I had a private meeting with a senior adviser to Buccleuch. In exchange for some intelligence he wanted on the likely impact of land reform, I requested information on who really owns Buccleuch Estates. I was told that it was controlled “by the family”, that there were “firewalls” between different parts of the business and that there were “offshore interests”.

Madonna of the Yarnwinder

Some years passed and my file on the topic lay dormant until in 2003 when the Leonardo da Vinci painting, the Madonna of the Yarnwinder was stolen from Drumlanrig Castle. Given the 80% inheritance liability that was due, I wondered what would happen in the event that the painting was never recovered. In 2007, the painting was recovered and is now on loan to the National Galleries of Scotland.

One thing that did happen was that the ownership of the painting changed hands shortly after the theft and was transferred to a charity, The Buccleuch Heritage Trust by a Deed of Gift on 16 April 2004.

The Buccleuch Heritage Trust transferred a total of £12 million of assets to a new charity, The Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust in 2011. The charity’s membership and Board is appointed exclusively by Mr Scott. The assets included Dalkeith House (which was not included in the valuation of £12 million) and title to the Madonna of the Yarnwinder.

The accounts of the Buccleuch Heritage Trust are no longer in the public domain. I asked Anderson Strathern for copies of the 2004 accounts but they demanded a fee of £100 which I could not afford and which I refused to pay. In the 2011 accounts of The Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust (2Mb pdf), there is a loan noted in the accounts for £749,692 that had been assigned from the Buccleuch Heritage Trust to finance the purchase of the Leonardo da Vinci painting (page 17). To understand this loan, we need to go back to the original theft of the painting.

In August 2003 the stolen painting was insured by John Scott for a figure of slightly less than £4 million. This seems to have been because, as outlined in Buccleuch’s letter in 1995, there was an 80% tax liability on the painting and that part of the value was never insured. Following the robbery, the insurers settled an insurance claim by Mr Scott of approximately £3.8 million. That settlement gave the insurers a right of ownership in the stolen painting. Around the same time the insurance policy in respect of the stolen painting was varied to enable the Buccleuch family to buy back the insurers’ right of ownership in the stolen painting, in the event that it was ever recovered.

My understanding is that the £749,692 that was loaned to the Trust in around 2004 was to enable this buy back agreement. The loan was fully paid off in 2012.

Pentland Ltd.

The loan to the trust was from a company called Pentland Ltd and the 2011 accounts note that Richard Scott, who is a Trustee of the charity, is also a Director of Pentland Ltd.

And so to the substance of this blog. Who is Pentland Ltd.?

There is only one company called Pentland Ltd. registered in the UK and it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Galliford Try, a UK construction company that has nothing to do with the Scott family.

The Pentland Ltd. that loaned £749,692 to acquire the da Vinci painting is a company registered in Grand Cayman, part of the Cayman Islands, a British Overseas Territory and notorious secrecy jurisdiction. Its registered office is ar HSBC International Trustee Ltd., PO Box 484GT, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.

Until recently, Pentland Ltd. had no direct links to the Buccleuch Group (the very complex network of companies controlled by Buccleuch Estates Ltd.). Instead it was part of a quite separate (and just as complex) network of companies controlled by the Scott family. Pentland was incorporated in Grand Cayman in 1990. By 2009, it had become a subsidiary of Dabton Investments Ltd. and in 2013, Dabton was acquired by Tarras Park Properties Ltd., a subsidiary of Buccleuch Estates Ltd.

Pentland Ltd. (Grand Cayman), Salters Land Ltd (British Virgin Islands) and Drumcork Ltd. (British Virgin Islands) are now all subsidiary undertakings, joint ventures and associates of Tarras Park Properties Ltd. which is wholly owned by Buccleuch Estates Ltd.

An investigation into the myriad companies associated with Pentland prior to 2013 reveals a series of loans from Pentland Ltd. to other companies in the Buccleuch Group. Some of these loans were repaid in full or in part and others were written off in full or part. Some details are provided in this  dossier.

Lending money to UK companies from companies registered in secrecy jurisdictions is one method of bringing offshore money onshore. Writing off such loans means that the money is never repaid.

Being 100% owned by the Buccleuch Group, loans and other related party transactions are now exempt from disclosure under Financial Reporting Standard 8 on Related Party Disclosures. It is thus no longer possible to identify the loans being made by Pentland Ltd. to other companies in the Buccleuch Group.

Given that Buccleuch Estate Ltd. is itself ultimately owned by a nominee company of solicitors, is Pentland Ltd. one of the offshore family trusts I was told about in the late 1990s?

Dalkeith Estate

Dalkeith Country Park is popularly assumed to be owned by Buccleuch Estates Ltd. But as we have already seen Dalkeith House and surrounding grounds are owned by The Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust.

The ownership of the majority of the rest of the Country Park and neighbouring land was revealed in correspondence entered into between Buccleuch Group, Anderson Strathern and the Registers of Scotland in relation to the registration of an agricultural tenant’s interest to buy their farm under Part 2 of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 2003.

The eastern part of the Country Park is occupied by a tenant of the Home Farm and a further agricultural tenancy exists over Smeaton Farm on the Park’s eastern border, just outside the park

Half of Smeaton Farm was owned in the past by Pentland Ltd. but by 2012, it had transferred its ownership to a company called Hayes One Ltd., Clifton House, 75 Fort Street, PO Box 1350, Grand Cayman, KY1-1108, Cayman Islands.

In correspondence relating to the Home Farm and Smeaton Farm in 2007, Registers of Scotland asked Buccleuch whether Pentland Ltd and Buccleuch Estates Ltd. “were connected  in any way for example with the same beneficial share ownership and whether the tenant did receive notification of the change of ownership and when this took place.”

In reply, Anderson Strathern wrote to RoS to state that ownership of the Home Farm had transferred from Pentland Ltd to Buccleuch Estates Ltd. on 26 November 2002 and this information had not been intimated to the tenant. The letter said nothing about beneficial ownership, merely that “Pentland Ltd is registered in the Cayman Islands and is not part of the Buccleuch Group.”

A search in the Register of Sasines and Land Register for “Pentland Ltd.” in Midlothian returned no results.

In an article in the Sunday Times on 21 July 2013, John Glen, Chief Executive of Buccleuch Estates Ltd. said,

It’s my job to run the Buccleuch companies and I can assure anyone that Buccleuch businesses pay tax where they fall due. All trusts linked with Buccleuch are subject to UK tax and all other family-related trusts are resident in the UK and subject to UK tax.”

It is not clear whether this statement covers the activities of Pentland Ltd., Salters Land Ltd., Drumcork Ltd. and One Hayes Ltd.

In a statement issued yesterday, a spokesman for Buccleuch said:

Pentland Limited is a Cayman Islands incorporated vehicle which is wholly owned by The Buccleuch Estates Limited which is UK registered. The company has always been wholly owned by Buccleuch and members of the Buccleuch family, all of whom are UK resident taxpayers.

“All profits arising in Pentland Limited are subject to UK corporation tax. Pentland Limited has historically owned land in the UK and currently owns an area of land near Canonbie in Dumfries and Galloway.”

In the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill debate on Wednesday this week, Patrick Harvie MSP has tabled two amendments that would bar all legal entities registered in British Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies from registering title to land in Scotland (Amendments 105 & 106 pages 11 & 12).

This is merely the latest in a long series of attempts in Parliament to crack down on offshore ownership. At First Minister’s Questions on 9 October 2003, Jack McConnell responded to a question from Stewart Stevenson MSP on the topic and concluded that “I am sure that the matter will be discussed in Parliament over a long period.

In 2012, in response to further attempts to amend the Land Registration (Scotland) Bill in 2012, Fergus Ewing MSP, responded to concerns raised by the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, by saying that nothing could or would be done. In a meeting with the Minister at the time, I specifically raised the question of the use of secrecy jurisdictions by landowners like Buccleuch. Barely able to disguise his contempt for me, he said that he had visited Buccleuch and that the company had created lots of jobs. On Wednesday, Parliament will once again debate the matter after months of pressure from campaigners for greater openness.

Meanwhile, despite what we have discovered here, we are no closer to being able to determine for sure the real owner of Buccleuch Estates Ltd.

See the story with further comment in The National by Commonspace journalist, Michael Gray and a summary of this blog here.

35 Comments

  1. Meanwhile umpteen buccleuch farms lie vacant and the houses derelict.

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  2. Owner identity is an urgent requirement under current taxes on incomes and profits in order to reduce tax evasion by individuals. In the longer term however, under AGR (Annual Ground Rent) with other revenues ended, there would be no such need. The 5% annual rental value bills could simply be made out to ‘the Occupier’. Defaulters would eventually face repossession. Cancelling tax evasion is one of the useful automatic AGR outcomes and another reason for its promotion by the Scottish Land Revenue Group.

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  3. I salute your efforts. Keep going.

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  4. Will Scotland ever be free to shake off these shackles?
    Or was the key thrown away centuries ago and we are keepers of our own jail?

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  5. andrew ramponi

    What a winding web of knots and wrinkles. Well done. You could pierce the ‘erse oot o’ an auld tin can. I’m relieved by the MSP comments suggesting it’s not about preserving the priviledges and wealth of the already priviledged and wealthy, but a simple job creation scheme. Thank goodness.

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  6. Many thanks Andy. So well done – passion and clarity

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  7. I am in awe of what you and Carole Ross have researched and written above and, indeed, elsewhere. I suspected the ‘Madonna of the Yarnwinder’ episode was just that – a yarn.

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  8. And also received a 38degrees petition in my inbox this morning urging us to email our MAPs on the matter of land ownership transparency

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  9. Donald McPhillimy

    Fascinating reading. Brilliant research. Keep going ! There must be a software programme which these highly paid solicitors use to create these webs of deceipt.

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  10. Seems to me that Fergus Ewing has traded on his family name and is the type of SNP MP we could do without.

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    • MP/MSPs have a duty to create the most good for the most people not use our votes to gain power and then defend unearned privileges. Anyone who won’t do that has to go.

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      • agreeed .. I’ve just used the 38 degrees link to email my MSPs (constituency and regional) to tell them to support the amendments at this coming Wednesday’s vote on the matter of transparency of ownership …

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    • Alistair MacKichan

      I spoke with the Chief Exec of Buccleuch Estates last year. He mentioned Fergus Ewing three times in support of his position on a proposed Energy Farm on Buccleuch Estates land.

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    • Wightman kicks ass

      Yes. I agree with you re Fergus Ewing .
      I’m an SNP member and he’s the one and only SNP MSP I’m unsure of. He has history; he carpeted Joan McAlpine when she criticised the Duke of Buccleuch’s plans – there’s that name again – to mine coalbed methane at Canonbie. I don’t know what’s going-on regards Ewing. I’m a die-hard Nationalist but..

      Maybe there’s a bigger-picture that we’re missing, but I can’t for the hell-of-me see it. I hope I’m wrong about him.

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  11. Lachie Macquarie

    I need to go and lie down.

    That’s Scotland, is it the same fog of obfuscation throughout the UK and the rest of Europe?

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    • As far as I am aware Lachie, Scotland and possibly the rest of the UK are in a unique situation in regards to the registration of land. I think the Scandinavian countries, and other European nations, such as France and Italy, all have public registers of who owns land. It is freely available. The situation we have in Scotland, and probably the rest of the UK as well, did not happen by accident.

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  12. Very impressive research. In an open democracy we must know who owns our country. That is not to deny the right to ownership but to make it completely transparent. It should also be very clear who owns the land a tenant pays rent to and from whom he should request the purchase of the land.

    It seems many of the people Richard Scott employs are lawyers

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  13. I lost the will before the end but Andy you sure do a fantastic job! I will go back to finish it….but one gets the full idea of the almost unbelievable lengths some big landowners go to. Many thanks

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  14. The scottish parliament doesnt work for the people. It is officially ‘The parliamentary Corporate Body’ and has 22 or 23 owners (MSP’s).

    There are actions going through the Court of Session again on 24th March 2016 at 10am challenging thier assumed authority. Please come along to add to the support. There were about 100 people there at the last hearing.

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  15. Interesting, when you consider Buccleuch [******** edited *******].

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  16. “Oh what a tangled web they weave…” Makes companies like Google and Facebook look squeaky clean doesn’t it?

    Well done with the research Andy, once again it show the need for real land reform in Scotland and MSPs who put the common good before their ‘political careers.

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  17. Rosemary Meechan

    Reminds me of the posse of lawyers allegedly employed by a certain Jo…

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  18. Such convoluted shenanigans, but this Andy Wightman is like a dog with a bone. Great stuff sir.

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  19. Well done, dogged perseverance pays off Andy.
    Have E mailed all my MSPs ,rung some, to support action tomorrow

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  20. Steven Skeldon

    If you ask me this all happened as a result of reform in the 1970s when the Land Register replaced Sasines. In Sasines, there is a very definite link between ‘persons’ and property. So you could open the Duke of Buccleuch and see a list of all his assets. This allows for seizure of assets eg when someone becomes insolvent (CAJR). This link was destroyed in the 70s, because any sales henceforth would not be caught in Sasines (place the article searched for Pentland Ltd). I don’t think a firm or trust should ‘ever’ be distanced too far from a real person in the way RoS allows. It makes for very muddy water. People assume this evasion was always current but its clearly a post 70s issue never properly tackled. If a trust owns it, that should be listed under Buccleuchs name if he owns the majority share. He should have to notify RoS if that share changes. I’m not sure this matters but RoS plans to take on tax powers under devolution, this may assist Scotland tidying up its tax dodgers and vilify those who have done no wrong…

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  21. The quotation by Nicky MacCrimmon – “It is not just a question of tax revenue or potential money laundering. It goes to the heart of democracy by saying we demand transparency and accountability from the people who own and exploit our natural resources.” – encapsulates perfectly the muddled thinking that surrounds this subject.

    There are four potential evils believed to arise from secrecy jurisdictions: lack of transparency, money laundering, tax evasion and tax avoidance. Look at these in turn.

    Lack of transparency – already taken care of in the Land Reform Bill by Graham Dey’s amendment requiring registration of people with “significant control” of trusts and corporates (whether on or offshore).

    Money laundering – if Andy or Michael Gray suspect the Buccleuch/Scott family of money laundering, then no doubt they will have reported their concerns to the police. Have you, as a matter of interest? Anyway, money laundering is a reserved matter so outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

    Tax evasion – this is the illegal non-payment of tax due, whether by concealing your affairs in secrecy jurisdictions or otherwise. But as always pointed out as one of the merits of Land Value Tax, and the same goes for all other taxes, you can’t hide Drumlanrig Castle or Dalkeith Palace in the Cayman Islands. So if HMRC think Buccleuchs/Scotts are evading tax, all they need do is raise estimated assessments which, if not paid, leads to the entities assessed being sequestrated and Drumlanrig/Dalkeith being sold. That’s all possible under existing law and being incorporated offshore does not confer immunity from having your onshore assets seized by due process in this way.

    Tax avoidance – this is what Buccleuch/Scotts are “guilty” of when using offshore corporates. In quotation marks because tax avoidance is not illegal. That’s not to prevent a debate about whether these tax planning devices should be closed off, of course, but that’s a reserved matter. Thus any attempt by the Scottish Parliament to ban ownership in secrecy jurisdictions would be actionable at the instance of anyone faced with a higher tax bill as a result. This will need to wait for indy.

    So the Scotgov’s answers to Patrick Harvie’s amendments are already done, reserved, no change needed, reserved.

    Anyway, I think Andy may have missed the real story here. What would have happened about the tax bill if the Madonna of the YW hadn’t been recovered, you ask? Simple – the tax would have become payable (although no doubt HMRC might have allowed a period of grace to see whether it was going to be recovered). But you say Buccleuch only insured the 20% value which was not the tax. Now Anderson Strathern and Saffery Champness (accountants) wouldn’t make a mistake about this which sort of suggests to me they had clearance from HMRC that, if it was stolen (or destroyed by fire etc.), they would be let off the tax. Whether because that (contrary to my assumption) is what the law is or due to an extra statutory concession by HMRC (because we know from the SAC Enquiry that heritage exemption is given a pretty easy ride) is the real story here. Either that or the level of insurance has got nothing to do with the tax.

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    • That’s some defence of the nobility, Mr King, helluva noble of you. But it does beg the question, doesn’t it – why all the secrecy? Why can’t we have access to the most basic information and the type of details that everybody else has to provide? Why all those companies owned by each other? Why all those solicitors owning all those companies owning each other? Why the Caymans? I mean, it’s almost as if they’re trying to conceal something?
      I mean, really?

      Andy Wightman has nothing to gain, nothing to hide, nothing concealed.
      I’m with Andy Wightman on this.

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      • Bill, I’m trying to cut through the fog of rhetoric to focus clearly on what the actual issues are. Why all the companies owning each other, you ask? It’s so that different projects in a group are standalone and if one fails it doesn’t drag the rest of the group down with it. You don’t have to be Buccleuch to do this – go and have a look at community owned South Uist Estate and its subsidiaries of subsidiaries. http://www.storasuibhist.com/about-us/

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        • Stuart Wilshaw

          Well fine if they have real projects, but when the project is hiding the true owners and avoiding tax it’s a different matter.

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          • Stuart
            But Buccleuch haven’t sought to hide it’s them and said they’ve paid tax on profits in the UK. Now I’m no particular fan of off-shoring but I do wonder if the righteous indignation is also being a little over done. The timing for the Land Reform Bill stage 3 debate was awfully convenient, no?

  22. Are the days gone where you have the right to keep what you own? Socialism is breaking up the country. Can landowners who are undoubtably rich (but ofter cash poor) be left alone to carry on suitably doing the best for the land. These beautiful landscapes are only existing though the constant management and devoting of Scotland’s landowners.

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  23. An object is insured (2003) then is stolen a year later (2004) with owners receiving £3.8 million payout and when found (recovered) 3 years later (2007) is redeemed from the insurance company’s part-ownership position for £.8 million. Meanwhile, its ownership AFTER the theft and BEFORE the redemption (2004) is changed, being given to a ‘trust’ controlled entirely by the original owner. Was £.8 paid IN ADDITION To returning the £3.8 million payout? OR did the B’s get to keep the £3.8 million. If so, i would like a homeowners policy from the same people

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  24. Stuart Wilshaw

    And now we have ‘The Panama Papers,’ it will be very interesting to see what comes out of them relating to Scotland.

    Busy time ahead Andy?

    Reply

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