JOHN Hein may not have discovered America. But he has incorporated the country.

The businessman set up The United States of America Limited in 2010. Its value? £1. Its headquarters? The White House, the one, that is, at 78 Montgomery Street, Edinburgh.

Mr Hein is a company formation agent. His modest front door flat is the corporate base for thousands of firms. The property, on paper at least, is giant.

The White House and a score of post box “suites” aside, it also includes Scotrail House, the headquarters of Scotrail Limited, a company which, despite its name, has nothing whatsoever to do with Scotland’s national train operator.

“I have always been a railway enthusiast,” Mr Hein jokes. “I have lots of railway companies but unfortunately no actual trains or tracks to play with, just a pile of papers.”

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As far as Companies House, Britain’s corporate registry, is concerned, Mr Hein is a Victorian rail tycoon. He owns some of the names vacated by major 19th century corporations, such as Caledonian Railways Company Limited, before they were merged in to the large holdings which were eventually consolidated in to British Rail.


The 'real' Scotrail

His Scotrail gets plenty of mail, not least from local councils and unhappy customers. The real train operator - the current holder of the Scotrail franchise is Scotrail Abellio Limited, a division of the Dutch national railway - did not wish to comment on its namesake.

Mr Hein does not just have a train operator clone. He also owns Railtrack Limited, a firm whose name mimics the old privatised infrastructure company, Railtrack PLC, which is now the state-owned Network Rail Infrastructure Limited.

Even old Railtrack employees get mixed up. Mr Hein eventually took to replying to the councils and law firms writing to him on official business. This included solicitors acting on behalf of workers who were suing their old bosses. He is still getting Railtrack mail, 15 years after the old PLC became Network Rail.

The businessman became so frustrated his turned the letters in to a book. Its title sums up his take: “Railtrack and Other Letters: Hilarious examples incompetence, perpetrated by lawyers and local authorities.”

HeraldScotland: The White House, Washington DC

White House 

Mr Hein is not trying to pass himself off as anybody else. And he admits some people can be “naughty” with Companies House. His railway empire shares an address with thousands of other firms, including Scottish limited partnerships or SLPs.

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Some of these businesses - essentially ghost firms with untraceable owners - were abused the biggest and most elaborate money-laundering scandals ever uncovered, especially in the former Soviet Union. Unaware of their purpose, Mr Hein hosted these on behalf of third parties and is eager to get them off his address, but cannot.

The result? The White House, the headquarters of United States of America Limited, is also the registered home of SLPs used to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars out of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, sometimes, politicians fear, on behalf of the Kremlin itself.