UK's first Unexplained Wealth Order used against Azerbaijani banker’s wife

UK's first Unexplained Wealth Order used against Azerbaijani banker’s wife
Zamira Hajiyeva became known in the British press as the mysterious woman who spent £16m at Harrods in a decade.
By bne IntelliNews October 10, 2018

The UK's first ever Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) features in an anti-corruption process brought against Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of Jahangir Hajiyev, a former chairman of state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan.

Hajiyeva risks losing her £15m home near the London luxury department store Harrods and a Berkshire golf course if she fails to satisfactorily explain the source of her wealth to the High Court.

Transparency International UK has called for UWOs to be used more widely to pursue the estimated £4.4bn or more of suspicious wealth the campaign group has identified across the UK. UWO powers are to be employed to target suspected corrupt foreign officials who have potentially laundered stolen money through the UK. The orders can be utilised in attempts at forcing individuals or families to disclose the legitimacy of their wealth. If they cannot do so, the National Crime Agency (NCA) can apply to the High Court to seize the assets.

UK media have reported on Hajiyeva, 55, as the mysterious woman who spent £16m at Harrods in a decade. She fought a legal battle to stay anonymous in the move brought under the UK's new anti-corruption law, but media persuaded the court on October 10 that her identity should be revealed so that the public could be informed of the full facts.

Under the terms of the UWO, Hajiyeva must provide the NCA with a clear account of how she and her husband could afford to purchase their large home in the exclusive London neighbourhood of Knightsbridge.

Hajiyeva's lawyers told the BBC that the UWO "does not and should not be taken to imply any wrongdoing", by her or her husband. They have applied for permission to appeal against the order.

Jahangir Hajiyev was jailed in 2016 for 15 years after being convicted of being part of major fraud and embezzlement that drained tens of millions of dollars from International Bank of Azerbaijan. He was also ordered to repay $39m.

Seven years earlier, a British Virgin Islands-based company paid £11.5m for a large home, just minutes' walk from Harrods in west London. The High Court has heard that the ultimate owners were Hajiyeva and her husband.

£10m splashed on a golf club
In 2013, the court heard, another company controlled by Hajiyeva splashed more than £10m acquiring Mill Ride Golf Club in the English home county of Berkshire, near Ascot.

Hajiyeva obtained permission to live in the UK under a visa scheme for wealthy investors.

She is said to have used three Harrods store loyalty cards and 35 credit cards issued by her husband's bank.

Upholding the UWO in a ruling given during an earlier hearing when the couple were still anonymous and were referred to as Mr and Mrs A, the judge, Mr Justice Supperstone, said: "I agree with the NCA that this evidence is significant in the light of the reports of Mr A's trial that allegations made against him included abuse of his position at the Bank by issuing credit cards in the names of family members, through which large debts were run up against the Bank."

Official records reveal the couple also own two dedicated bays within the private Harrods car park and Hajiyeva also bought a $42m Gulfstream G550 jet, the BBC reported.

Hajiyeva says she is innocent of the accusations.

Jahangir Hajiyev denied defrauding his bank, but failed in an appeal against his conviction. His lawyers have reportedly claimed that he fell out with Azerbaijan's corrupt ruling family and paid the price.

He has requested that the European Court of Human Rights intervene in his case.