British businessman has island in Bahamas, but Exaro finds two homes in England
By David Pallister and Mike Deri Smith | 6 March 2013
He is the mysterious British businessman linked to £14.5 million transferred offshore as part of a huge defence deal with Saudi Arabia. And he gives his address as Little White Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas.
He bought the island in 1985 a few years after setting up as a commission agent for lucrative contracts with the Saudi national guard.
But Exaro has traced two properties worth millions of pounds belonging to the “expatriate” British businessman Peter Austin and his wife, Erica, right here in England.
They have a luxurious new-build mews house in Bayswater, central London, complete with four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a home cinema. They moved into the three-floor house worth more than £3 million just under two years ago.
And their country home is a five-bedroom detached house, worth around £3 million, in the Gloucestershire village of Ready Token.
A few miles away at the Oaksley Park airfield, Erica keeps her bright red, single-engine Wilga 2000 aircraft, which was built in Poland by a subsidiary of the European defence contractor, EADS.
Erica bought the rare plane – the only one registered in the UK – in July 2007, four months after EADS took over the small British defence company, GPT Special Project Management, which is at the centre of an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) over claims that it paid bribes to help secure a deal to overhaul the Saudi national guard’s communications systems.
The SFO mounted its full criminal investigation after Exaro detailed how, as part of what is known as the Sangcom project, GPT transferred £14.5 million between 2007 and 2010 to two companies registered in the Cayman Islands, Simec International and Duranton International, which did not appear to carry out any sub-contracting work.
Peter Austin is a key partner in those two offshore companies. Last month, Exaro also identified another partner behind the network of companies that received secret transfers from the Sangcom project.
There is no suggestion beyond coincidence that Erica’s acquisition of the Wilga 2000 aircraft in 2007 is linked to the EADS takeover of GPT.
Five years earlier, the Austins bought another Wilga before transferring it to Canada in 2009. Erica lists “flying” as one of her interests on Facebook.
Other attractions also bring the couple to the UK, where their two sons study. Erica owns a 1962 AC Cobra rally car which she regularly enters in the annual Goodwood revival meeting for classic cars. Erica also competed in the Royal Parks half-marathon in 2010.
In 2011, the couple celebrated moving into their mews house in Bayswater. It was “an amazing place”, Erica told her Facebook friends, and the architects were “brilliant”.
A description by McLean Quinlan, the boutique architects, said: “Careful detailing, bespoke joinery and the use of beautiful natural materials, such as oak, slate and granite, add to the sense of space in this relatively compact site. As well as a lift that runs from top to bottom, the ground and first floor contain four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a home cinema, study, gym and double garage.”
The planning application for the new-build was made by Little Whale Investments, a company registered in Jersey in 1986, a year after Peter bought the island in the Bahamas. The company’s shares are owned by Caspian Island Investments, based in Grand Cayman.
Erica comes from a wealthy and creative family. One of four daughters, she was educated at Marlborough College, the independent boarding school.
Her 79-year-old mother, Diana Bourdon-Smith, is a painter in the impressionist tradition, and has exhibited at London’s Royal Academy of Arts and at galleries in New York. Her father, who died in 2006, was part of the family-owned Georgian silver dealers, J H Bourdon-Smith, with a shop in St James’s, close to the Ritz Hotel.
No one answered when Exaro called at the couple’s Bayswater house. But past attempts by Exaro to speak to Peter Austin have been rebuffed.
Erica previously replied on his behalf to say that he could not discuss his business activities because of “current legal proceedings”. This is understood to be a reference to a claim for damages against GPT by Simec and Duranton, the two Cayman companies.