A businessman who previously likened his trading tactics to those of a ‘rapist’ is at the center of a growing crisis at beleaguered Home REIT.
Christopher Downing, a property entrepreneur, sold large amounts of landlord housing for the homeless before it was thrown into chaos after an attack by short seller Fraser Perring and his company Viceroy Research.
Since the first broadside in November, Home REIT has been rocked by a series of interlocking debacles that have seen its shares suspended from the London Stock Exchange.
Questions: Christopher Downing has sold a large part of his real estate portfolio of almost 2,500 properties to Home REIT through his social housing group Karla as well as other entities
It faces litigation with several of its tenants, a detailed investigation of its accounts by auditor BDO and an investigation into allegations of corruption by forensic accountant Alvarez & Marsal as well as the National Crime Agency.
Downing, 64, has sold much of his property portfolio of nearly 2,500 properties through his social housing group Karla as well as other entities to Home REIT.
Former associates claim he made tens of millions of pounds selling the properties at inflated prices, claims Downing denies.
The Home REIT debacle has raised fears that many of its residents, including ex-servicemen and survivors of domestic abuse, could be relocated if the group is forced to sell its portfolio amid a slump in rental income.
But for Downing his troubles are likely to seem a world apart, with the businessman having decamped to a village in the Venetian Lagoon, in which Venice is located, where he plans to turn a former glass factory into a hotel. luxury.
The profits from his time in the property also enabled him to amass a garage of luxury cars including a white Rolls-Royce and two Bentleys.
His reputation among several former partners, including some of Home REIT’s charitable tenants, is notorious, with many accusing him of abusive behavior, intimidation and manipulation.
“He’s very good at what he does,” said Matt Fearnley, chief executive of Noble Tree, one of the tenants’ organizations currently in dispute with Downing and Home REIT over allegations that he disowned tenants. renovation contracts for properties used to house vulnerable people.
In a statement, Downing said there have been “numerous false and deliberately misleading accusations” made against him.
Fortune: Downing’s property deals allowed him to amass a garage of luxury cars, including a white Rolls-Royce and two Bentleys
The statement read: “The truth is that I am self-made and worked hard to be able to move into a €250,000 one-bedroom apartment in the Veneto region of Italy, an area known for its peace and quiet. tranquility, which is important to me as I recover from cancer.
“For the past 40 years, I have worked in the real estate industry and been well paid, mainly through my work in emerging markets.”
Downing said “like many others”, that he sold properties to Home REIT at local housing allowance rates and that the properties were “appraised by Knight Frank in accordance with instructions from Home REIT”.
He pointed out that the company had confirmed that it had undertaken “extensive due diligence” before the purchase.
‘I have gone above and beyond to ensure, by providing grants to all social tenants, that this venture would be sustainable,’ Downing said, saying he had paid tenants £20million ‘in excess ” of the funds necessary for the renovation work.
But over that 40-year career, Downing also appears to have cultivated a reputation for cruelty in several countries.
According to Karla’s website, in 1992 he moved to Russia shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Downing has also spent time in Pakistan, South Africa and Myanmar, saying in an email seen by the Mail that he had seen and done things during his career that made him “a deeply unpleasant person “.
In the email outlining his negotiation strategy to two potential charity partners, Downing said: “We buy properties, mostly portfolios, we try to steal them and that’s what I do well… We buy from a price, it’s a negotiated price based on how cruel I can be… It can range from fair bidding, to brutality, to rapist.
He added that the profits he and his business partners made were used to support an ‘outrageous lifestyle’ and warned those who worked with him to ‘never fuck up, never fuck up’ .
Some who worked with Downing highlighted instances of his self-admitted cruelty in action.
In an email to several Home REIT employees seen by the Mail, a whistleblower alleged that Downing had become “angry and verbally abusive” with the head of one of the charities signing property leases, who has described as being “financially dependent” on her business and “in the early stages of pregnancy”.
Other choice language Downing used was to call people “lazy money-grabbing idiots” as well as to say that a charity worker had “no use” unless the one of the bosses “wants the young woman as his girlfriend”.
Downing’s previous business partners included the late Meyrick Cox, a former Goldman Sachs banker and former Etonian who attended the exclusive school alongside Boris Johnson. Cox died of cancer in 2020
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