It’s been an international enigma for the last two years: Who really owns the lavish Vancouver Island estate where Prince Harry and Meghan wintered in 2020 as they reportedly hashed out their plan to step back from official royal duties?
Is it the Russian-born billionaire who several media outlets linked to the property? Is it Canadian mining magnate Frank Giustra, as (erroneously) reported by the New York Post’s Page Six?
CBC and Radio-Canada found the answer, and it does indeed involve a Russian, but it wasn’t easy — it took an international leak of tax-haven data, access to a company’s internal records and intense research. All that, experts say, shows once again just how opaque Canada is when it comes to assets like real estate and who owns it.
“It is very easy for criminals around the world to be laundering their dirty money in Canada and buying real estate,” said Kevin Comeau, a lawyer and financial transparency expert. “And we have no way of knowing who they are or [the] ability to chase their money. ”
There is no suggestion of criminality surrounding the Mille Fleurs mansion in North Saanich, about 30 kilometres up Island from Victoria. But it certainly shields its owner well.
For starters, unlike most properties in B.C., you can’t find it in the provincial land registry.
That’s because the mansion isn’t registered as a single property, but is part of a stretch of oceanfront land on the Saanich Peninsula owned by a corporation called the Towner Bay Country Club. Each homeowner on the land has shares in the country club corresponding to their lot.
The club’s records are not public. But CBC/Radio-Canada was able to review an internal spreadsheet that tracks club owners’ property tax. It lists a British Virgin Islands company called JEMC Management as the owner of Mille Fleurs.
Corporate records in the British Virgin Islands don’t disclose a company’s shareholders. So the ownership trail would normally stop cold here, but for a stroke of luck: The Pandora Papers — the huge cache of leaked tax-haven records obtained by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and shared with CBC/Radio-Canada — shows that JEMC Management is owned by another company, registered in the Bahamas, called Orland Properties.
Orland, in turn, is owned by a trust called the Andromeda Trust, formed under the laws of the Bailiwick of Jersey, a tiny tax haven off the coast of France. The trustee is a company whose sole officer lives in Cyprus.
But whose money is behind that?
Two years ago, as speculation about who was really hosting Harry and Meghan hit fever pitch, a name that kept emerging was billionaire venture capitalist Yuri Milner, arguably the highest-profile Russian-born investor in Silicon Valley.
Milner is reported to spend time with celebrities on a superyacht — a boat also called Andromeda — and he knows Canadian music producer David Foster, whose wife knows Meghan Markle from their school days.
Foster, a 16-time Grammy winner, even gave an interview to Britain’s Daily Mail about the mansion in 2020, where he said he’s been friends with the mansion owner for years. The music producer said that, although Milner wasn’t the owner, he had helped Milner rent the house “about five or six years ago… for a short time.”
Read the full article from CBC News here.
This article was initially posted by Zach Dubinsky, Frédéric Zalac, Paul Émile d’Entremont, Alex Shprintsen on CBC News on April 14, 2022.