When 8,700 acres of farm land known as the Savernake Estate was sold last year by the Crown Estate Marlborough News Online reported that the buyer was Stefan Persson’s UK registered company Ramsbury Estates Limited.
That was what we and tenant farmers were led to believe by the Crown Estate’s less than transparent statement.
It has now become known that the owner of this land is in fact Ramsbury SàRL – a company registered and headquartered in Luxembourg. And the land is leased on to Ramsbury Estates Limited which manages it.
Mr Persson is Swedish and lives in Sweden. He is the Chairman of the high street fashion chain H&M and is its main shareholder.
In March 2013 when he bought the Savernake Estate farm land (which is entirely separate from Savernake Forest and from the Cardigan family’s Savernake Estate), Forbes magazine estimated Persson’s wealth at $28 billion making him the world’s twelfth richest person.
The fact that the land is now owned by a Luxembourg company came to light when the purchase had to be filed with Wiltshire Council in accordance with the Highways Act 1980 and the Commons Act 2006. This registers the byways open to all traffic, restricted byways, public bridleways and public footpaths that cross the land.
These documents are in the public domain and include maps showing the extent of the land sold by the Crown Estate.
This land consists of the Savernake Estate (which was bought as a ‘portfolio sale’ covering 25 agricultural holdings and 31 residences) and also Harrow Farm and Knowle Farm in Froxfield, and Puthall Farm in Little Bedwyn.
The land lies across the parishes of Burbage, Great Bedwyn, Little Bedwyn, Mildenhall, Savernake and Wootton Rivers.
Ramsbury Estates Limited is a UK registered company in which Mr Persson has been the sole shareholder. Ramsbury SàRL is registered at rue du Plebiscite 1, 2341 Luxembourg, and appears to have been converted from a limited liability company in October 2012.
SàRL stands for ‘Société à responsabilité limitée’. Luxembourg’s government website – guichet.lu – uses the ‘SARL’ abbreviation and confusingly calls (in translation) a SARL a ‘limited liability company’.
According to the website: “A specific type of commercial company: it has the characteristics of a capital company (liability of the partners limited to the amount of their contributions) as well as the characteristics of a partnership (non-transferable company shares.)”
“In Luxembourg, the SARL is the most widely used form of company (around two-thirds of the companies in Luxembourg are SARLs). A SARL may have between 2 and 40 partners.”
“There is also a ‘single member’ SARL which is an exception to the traditional concept of company law, allowing a single partner to benefit from the advantages of a SARL.”
In January 2012 the three farms – Puthall, Harrow and Knowle – were sold by the Crown Estate to Stefan Persson as a block of farmland for £9,100,000 and ownership of the three farms was transferred to Ramsbury SàRL. So the Crown Estate knew when they sold the many farms which make up the 8,700 acres of the Savernake Estate farmland that ownership would go overseas with the financial advantages that can involve.