Revealed: the peanut tycoon who owns Livingstone’s City Hall
by John Waples and Dan Box
Sunday Times (London)
May 23, 2004, Sunday
A SECRETIVE Swiss-based businessman has emerged as the mystery owner
of City Hall, the headquarters of London’s Mayor, Ken Livingstone.
After months of anonymity which have led to questions being asked in
the House of Commons, The Sunday Times can reveal that the offices
are owned by London Bridge Holdings, a Bahamas-based company.
The firm’s principal shareholder has been identified as Dikran
Izmirlian, 77, who made his fortune by creating a near-monopoly on
the world’s peanut market.
The news is likely to come as a surprise to Livingstone, who has
shown no evidence of knowing who controls the company with which he
has agreed a 25-year lease for his office.
Izmirlian, who is of Armenian descent, is chairman and chief executive
of Alimenta, a company that has built up a big interest in the Gambian
peanut, or groundnut, market.
By establishing effective control of the processing and export of
groundnuts, Alimenta soon became vital to the country where 70%
of the population rely on the annual harvest for their livelihood.
In 1999, Gambia’s government accused Alimenta of money laundering
and seized processing plants belonging to the company.
Alimenta successfully sued Gambia in international courts and, in 2001,
the Gambian government agreed to pay $ 11.4m (£6.37m) in compensation,
money that was partly met using grants from the EU.
Little is known about Mr Izmirlian, who has chosen not to make public
his involvement in the City Hall site.
He is registered as the director of Alimenta UK Ltd, a shell company
with total assets of £100 and no record of having traded in this
country. Its registered address turns out to be that of Lovells,
a London law firm.
Documents lodged with Companies House, however, show that Izmirlian
now lives in Switzerland and has Swiss nationality.
His son, Sarkis Izmirlian, is registered as living in Lyford Cay,
an exclusive residential enclave on Paradise Island in the Bahamas,
where he also claims nationality.
Despite holding a Swiss passport, Dikran Izmirlian has roots in
Armenia. In 1994 he established the Izmirlian Foundation in Armenia’s
capital, Yerevan, to support education and business in the country.
The foundation provides loans of up to $500,000 to encourage local
Other philanthropic work involves funding construction work at the
city’s university library, military academy and religious institutions.
The extent of Izmirlian’s interests in commercial property development
in this country or abroad are unknown.
What is known is that London Bridge Holdings owns the entire 13-acre
site on which City Hall is situated. The development also includes
the European headquarters of Ernst & Young and the Hewitt, Bacon and
The site is the second- largest commercial development in London and
lies on the city’s south bank, between Tower Bridge and London Bridge.
Originally bankrolled by the German Depfa bank and CIT Group, London
Bridge Holdings assumed sole ownership of the site in 2002. The group
has recently completed a £460m refinancing facility underwritten by
Royal Bank of Scotland.
With this capital, it now hopes to finish development of the site.
The international law firm Norton Rose has reportedly entered into
negotiations to base its new headquarters in the development.
There are also plans for a 245-bed, four-star hotel, which has been
pre-let to the Hilton Group.