UK looking into source of wealth of former Azerbaijani official's wife
The UK’s National Crime Agency has made its first even demand upon a citizen of a foreign country to unveil the source of their wealth. The demand came down after the wife of an Azerbaijani banker, Zamira Hajiyeva, lost a legal battle to remain anonymous after the media argued the public should know the full facts, BBC reports.
She risks losing her £15 million home near the Harrod’s department store in London as well as a Berkshire golf course if she fails to explain the source of her wealth to the High Court.
Under the terms of the UK’s first ever Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO), Hajiyeva, 55, must now provide the National Crime Agency with a clear account of how she and her husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, could afford to buy their large home in the exclusive London neighbourhood of Knightsbridge.
Hajiyeva’s lawyers said 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 the order.
What is an Unexplained Wealth Order?
A UWO is a new power which has been designed to target suspected corrupt foreign officials who have potentially laundered stolen money through the UK.
Investigators from the National Crime Agency believe there are billions of pounds of dirty money invested in British property – but it is almost impossible to charge the owners with a crime or seize the assets because of a lack of evidence.
The new Unexplained Wealth Orders are an attempt to force the owners to disclose their wealth.
If a suspected corrupt foreign official, or their family, cannot show a legitimate source for their riches, then the National Crime Agency can apply to the High Court to seize the property.
Jahangir Hajiyev is the former chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan.
He was jailed in 2016 for 15 years after being convicted of being part of a major fraud and embezzlement scheme that saw tens of millions of pounds disappear from the bank. Judges also ordered him to repay $39 million.
Seven years earlier, a company based in the British Virgin Islands paid £11.5 million for a large home, just minutes’ walk from Harrods in west London. Its current market value is estimated at £15 million.
How much money did the couple bring to the UK?
During a High Court hearing in July, in which the couple were known only as Mr and Mrs A, it was revealed that Hajiyeva had an enormous amount of disposable income.
Over ten years she spent more than £16 million in Harrods – the equivalent of more than £4,000 a day.
Examples of her big spending, revealed to the court, included £150,000 spent on a single day on Boucheron – a luxury jewellery, perfume and watches brand.
The next day, the court heard, she topped up the wine cellar by spending £1,800.
On another occasion she spent £100,000 on Cartier jewellery and £20,000 on luxury men’s goods.
Hajiyeva used three store loyalty cards and 35 credit cards issued by her husband’s bank.