Real estate, wine and tech: how Perenco’s offshore oil profits end up back in Europe

At first glance, the property at 15 Stratford Place in London and Cáceres’s future shopping centre in Spain have nothing in common. The former is an elegant neo-classical building in the affluent district of Marylebone. It is home to a Qatari bank and used to be the studios of Edward Lear, a Victorian painter. The second is a vast construction site near a motorway, soon to house shops and cinemas in the outskirts of Cáceres, an ancient Spanish city in the rural region of Extremadura. 

The two properties could hardly look more different. Yet money to acquire both hailed from the offshore vaults of the same family, the Perrodos, sole owners of Europe’s self-styled “leading” independent energy company: Perenco.

Despite being headquartered between Paris and London, where the Perrodos also live, Perenco registered its top holdings in the Bahamas. The group extracts no fossil fuel in the island nation, but dividends there are untaxed, allowing for a fruitful scheme that shelters oil revenues before ploughing them back into various European investments. 

To acquire 15 Stratford Place in 2015, the Perrodos spent nearly £40 million using two shell corporations: Clipille Ltd in the Bahamas and Slipview Ltd in Guernsey. To buy land for the new shopping complex in Cáceres, they created a string of companies in Luxembourg and offshore.

The Perrodos acquired 15 Stratford Place, in London, through companies in the Bahamas and Guernsey.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the Perrodos’ real estate empire built on oil profits housed in tax havens. While accusations of pollution have multiplied against Perenco recently – leading to a lawsuit in France following IE’s revelations of the group’s environmental damage in the Democratic Republic of Congo – the Perrodos have amassed an impressive investments portfolio shrouded in secrecy. 

In London alone, they have funnelled over £462 million of tax haven funds into the property market. In Luxembourg, the family’s assets are worth over €2 billion, spanning from real estate in Spain and Portugal, to famous French vineyards and shares in food and technology companies, in Sweden, Ireland and France. 

In a statement sent to IE, a spokesperson for Perenco said: “Each investment made is fully compliant with all tax and disclosure requirements and all laws in force in the countries of operation and no company managed by the family office is subject to any tax investigation.”

“All companies are correctly registered for tax,” the spokesperson added, and investments made outside of oil and gas support the growth of businesses while providing “increased employment and benefits to the economy.”

Properties in London’s poshest areas

Across the UK capital, the Perrodos have bought entire blocks of flats, offices and luxury homes in some of the city’s most opulent neighbourhoods. 

Analysis of land and corporate registries reveals how the properties were either directly procured by shell companies in the Bahamas and Guernsey, or by their British subsidiaries with offshore money from interest-free loans. 

The amount of £462 million is an estimate based on purchase prices from the land register or investments in filed accounts. The real number is probably much bigger. IE’s calculation does not cover unavailable data or homes bought by the Perrodos directly in their own names. What is more, the price of many of the properties has skyrocketed since they were first bought, which means the family’s portfolio has only grown in value.

The majority of purchases happened after 2013, but the first one can be traced back to 2000. Some of the priciest investments discovered include: £85 million in 2013 for Perenco’s headquarters by Oxford Circus, £21.5 million in 2016 for a mansion near Holland Park, and £15.7 million in 2018 for Nash House, an office block in Mayfair.

Nash House, in LondonMaxence Peigné
Nash House, an office block in Mayfair, London.

Today, many of the Perrodos’ companies with real estate in London don’t disclose their beneficial owners. To unearth them, IE looked at their shareholders: the family’s offshore entities and trusts, or at their registered addresses and managers: Perenco’s headquarters and directors.  

This is despite rules requiring ownership declarations for British businesses since 2016, and for overseas companies with property in England by the end of January 2023. 

“All companies owning UK real estate, wherever incorporated, are registered and tax payable in the UK in full compliance with HMRC [the fiscal authorities] rules,” the Perenco spokesperson said.

The Perrodos’ personal wealth in Britain goes far beyond real estate. They have two family offices in the country. First is BNF Capital, an investor in Rolls-Royce’s nuclear plans, that counted former Perenco boss Jean-Michel Runacher as its executive director until recently. Father of French Energy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher, he was removed from the corporate register on the day IE and Disclose published revelations about their potential conflict of interest.

Second is Perwyn, a private equity firm that claims €2.5 billion of assets under management. IE found numerous links between Perwyn and tax havens, notably the Bahamas, Guernsey, Gibraltar and Luxembourg.

With offshore cash, the family also funded three restaurants in London and backed an online wine retailer that has since fallen into administration.

An impressive portfolio in Luxembourg

Perenco’s shareholders have feathered their nest away from home too. In Luxembourg, IE located 89 companies connected to the Perrodos. For those where current shareholding patterns are clear, analysis shows that the family owns at least €2 billion worth of assets in the Grand Duchy, according to the latest corporate filings. Three quarters of these firms have real estate investments as their main purpose, mostly in Spain and Portugal, but also in Panama and the US.

In the Iberian peninsula, the Perrodos are co-founders of Kronos, property developer with an expected turnover of €500 million this year. From Lisbon to Barcelona, the group has built seafront homes, residential towers and shopping centres, including the one underway in Cáceres. 

Kronos’s top structure consists of a myriad of entities in Luxembourg: management companies, financial funds and projects holdings with Spanish and Portuguese subsidiaries.

In the Grand Duchy, the Perrodos appear as the main investors in dozens of Kronos companies, with shares held by corporate shells in tax havens.

“In this specific case [in Luxembourg] the Perrodo family may be the majority shareholder, but that does not mean that they are the majority shareholders of the projects that we manage,” Kronos told IE, insisting that their shareholding is “quite diversified”.

Lebanese financier Saïd Salim Hejal, CEO of Kronos, is a recurring partner. Others are TIAA, a US pension fund, and Françoise Bettencourt, the world’s richest woman at the helm of cosmetics multinational L’Oréal.

Property development is not the only sector attracting the Perrodos to the tax-friendly European country. From Luxembourg, the family also oversees its wine ventures, with a €328 million holding controlling vineyards in south-west France, as well as a 22.6% stake in Taittinger, a world-famous Champagne producer.

Other stakes include 79.7% of French online media Konbini, 9.5% of French start-up Wynd, and several acquisitions made under their Perwyn family office, such as Miss Group, a Swedish web hosting provider; and Isla Delice, France’s leading halal meat manufacturer – according to the latest corporate filings in the Luxembourg registry.

Nearly 1 million of tax avoided in a Spanish project

In addition to exploiting tax havens to channel their European investments, the Perrodos also use offshore vehicles to extract profits from their subsidiaries and joint ventures.

Shell companies they set up in Luxembourg, Guernsey and the Bahamas have two ways of doing this. One is to collect dividends from affiliates across Europe, the other is through intra-group loans with interests far above market trends.

Let’s take one example in Spain. In 2020, Kronos completed H2O, a modern complex with 252 flats and 18 retail units in Badalona, a coastal suburb of Barcelona. Behind the project is a Luxembourg company created in 2015, Barkeno sarl, whose main owners are the Perrodos, with 68% of the shares.

Between 2015 and 2017, Barkeno received €19 million from Tchack Limited, a Bahamian firm belonging to the family. It immediately turned the money into loans for Barkeno Developments, its Spanish subsidiary in charge of building H2O for Kronos. The agreed interest rate was an exorbitant 8%, far above market trends.

By comparison, Barkeno Developments received further funding from a Spanish bank in 2015, €20 million, with interests between 2.5% and 3%.

The agreed interest rate for the money lent to Barkeno Developments was 8%, far above market trends.

Why would any company accept to fork out three times more for a loan from its shareholders, when banks charge far less? The answer is simple: to pay less tax while allowing owners to reap more gains.

In that regard, Barkeno Developments turned out to be extremely profitable for the Perrodos. In total, almost €16.5 million of profits stemming from the H2O project left Spain for the Grand Duchy and further afield.

By 2021, Barkeno Developments had sent over €12.6 million of dividends to its Luxembourg parent and repaid its entire loan, with an additional €5.8 million interest. That’s €3.8 million more than a bank would have asked. 

As this amount is seen as an expense, the company was able to reduce its profit accordingly. And since Spanish tax on profits is 25%, Kronos avoided handing nearly €1 million to the treasury. 

Kronos told IE that these loans were under no circumstances given to charge affiliates extra costs. “Such interest rates cannot be compared to bank loans, as the latter are normally secured by a mortgage on the real estate, whereas investors face higher risks,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Two Spanish tax experts IE consulted disagree. Corporate tax law, they argue, states that intra-group operations between companies with the same owners must be carried out at “market value”.

“[Barkeno] would have to be practically bankrupt to ask for money with an interest rate of 8%,” observed a tax inspector, adding that this would only be acceptable if the company was unable to get funding anywhere else.

This practice is not uncommon in the Perrodos’ corporate world. In fact, IE found similar loans with interests between 7% and 10% in the latest filings of 18 Luxembourg companies where the family is a clear majority shareholder.

A similar ruse also happened in the UK in 2019. Mact Holding, a British firm registered via the Bahamas, granted two £3 million loans with 15% interests to joint ventures partly owned by the family and developing luxury flats in west London.

Just as Barkeno in Spain, this bloated rate was far above market trends, as a British bank also granted the project multi-million pound loans with just 5.25% interest rates.

Sometimes, Perenco’s owners chose to set up real estate companies in their names rather than with offshore intermediaries. While this means that they cannot conceal their identity, the sums invested are as astronomical as usual. One such example in the UK is Fanagan Ltd, a firm set up for “residents property management” with a capital of £100 million.

If direct ownership is a rare occurrence for the Perrodos’ businesses in the UK, it seems to be often the case in France. In their country of origin, real estate firms held in their own names bought millions of euros of properties, with a particular focus on the sun-drenched South East and ski resorts in the Alps. These have included a €20 million villa near Saint-Tropez and several chalets, some for €10 million or more.

Asked about the numbers in this article, a spokesperson for the Perrodos said: “As a private business, the family office does not provide details on individual investments beyond what is publicly available and it is an expectation that any reporting on public information should be clear that all legal requirements have been followed.”

#PerencoFiles is an ongoing investigation in partnership with french Non-profit newsroom Disclose and is supported by the IJ4EU Investigation Support Scheme.