A new regime Charles: A king and billionaire bizman

A new regime Charles: A king and billionaire bizman

When talking about Charles though there is the private citizen, the longtime public servant and now, at 73, the head of state.

LONDON: When most people think of King Charles III, they picture the former Prince of Wales playing polo, shaking hands, giving toasts or praising organic gardening. But while he was doing that he was also building up a business empire. Today it is worth over a billion pounds and growing fast.

When talking about Charles though there is the private citizen, the longtime public servant and now, at 73, the head of state. Defining what is private and what is state-owned is not always easy. Unquestionably much of the glittering pomp like the Crown Jewels, Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace belong to the country and not the royal family.

Today, Charles III nonetheless controls a big property and investment portfolio and soon his profile will decorate the country’s currency. A look back shows an interest in a business full of tax breaks, real-estate deals and some offshore accounts.

As Prince of Wales, Charles depended on the Duchy of Cornwall for the bulk of his income to fund his personal and official expenses. The duchy is a private business that includes around 52,450 hectares (nearly 130,000 acres) of land spread over 20 counties in England and Wales.

The property portfolio includes 260 fully equipped farms, woodlands and numerous residential and commercial properties. The duchy also controls parts of the coastline and has a financial investment portfolio.

The duchy has been in existence since 1337 as a way to support the heir to the throne. By law the beneficiary cannot sell assets, and only receives a payout from the revenues generated.

In 1969, when Charles was 21, he started receiving the duchy’s full income. By the 1980s, he had taken a more active interest in what was a rather laid-back business.

“What Charles did differently was he was involved in professionalising it for a late capitalist age, for instance, the duchy hired managers and professional staff who diversified its portfolio,” said Laura Clancy, a lecturer at Lancaster University. “This meant that it was less just a pile of land, and more a portfolio that is productive,” the author of “Running the Family Firm: How the monarchy manages its image and our money” told DW.

Currently, the management team is supported by 180 staff from a headquarters in London and various local offices. Their main focus remains land, rent and property development. But in 2017, documents known as the Paradise Papers showed that they had invested money in offshore companies. Though perhaps an embarrassment, a spokesman shielded Charles saying others were responsible for investment decisions.

And despite many long-term renters, over the years some tenants have complained of not getting fair deals. Last year it was revealed that the then-prince had used his influence for decades to vet laws to stop tenants buying property. Still, the duchy has been a goldmine for him.

For the year 2002/2003, the duchy reported revenues of around 10 million pounds ($11.4 million), which were then transferred to Charles. The total value of the estate was around 400 million pounds. Since then the numbers have gone up nearly every year, according to their annual reports.

Laura Clancy from Lancaster University has called the family “a firm” to unmask it as a corporation and to understand its wealth and power. But she doesn’t think their riches, lack of transparency and the inequality that it demonstrates will be the monarchy’s undoing.

The secret of the queen was that she was a “quiet presence” and didn’t intervene in public debates, Nikhil Kumar, deputy global editor at Grid, told DW. Her longevity gave her the “stardust of history.” It remains to be seen if King Charles can keep that up. If not, all the money in the world may not save the monarchy.

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