The judge said the NCA had not proved the properties were purchased using proceeds of crimes committed by Rakhat Aliyev (above) who died in jail in 2015 © Dragan Tatic/AFP

The UK High Court has ruled the National Crime Agency was wrong to claim that three London properties worth £80m owned by the daughter and grandson of Kazakhstan’s autocratic former president were purchased with ill-gotten gains.

In a blow to the agency, the NCA lost a legal challenge to three unexplained wealth orders that targeted the homes of relatives of ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev. These tools, which came into force in 2018, are designed to be used in a crackdown on the flow of dirty money into the UK. 

The NCA said on Thursday it planned to appeal against the ruling. “The NCA is tenacious. We have been very clear that we will use all the legislation at our disposal to pursue suspected illicit finance and we will continue to do so,” said Graeme Biggar, director-general of the National Economic Crime Centre, which sits within the NCA.

The three properties, including a mansion on The Bishops Avenue in Hampstead, dubbed “Billionaire’s Row”, are ultimately owned by Sandhurst-educated Nurali Aliyev, the grandson of Mr Nazarbayev, and his mother Dariga Nazarbayeva, one of Kazakhstan’s most powerful politicians and the eldest daughter of the country’s former president. 

The NCA suspected the properties to have been purchased with the proceeds of crimes committed by Rakhat Aliyev, Mr Aliyev’s father, a former deputy head of Kazakhstan’s state security service who died in prison in 2015, where he was being held on murder charges.

However, in her judgment, Mrs Justice Lang said the NCA’s evidence was “unreliable” and said the agency had not proved that Rakhat Aliyev’s funds were used to set up the network of offshore shell companies used to purchase the properties. The three UWOs also covered a house in Highgate and two flats in the same complex in Chelsea, which were treated as one property.

Ms Nazarbayeva and her son were independently wealthy enough to pay for the properties, the judge said, and had proved little or no contact with Mr Aliyev in recent years.

Nurali Aliyev, a technology entrepreneur who purchased the house on The Bishops Avenue for £39m at the age of 23 via Manrick Private Foundation, a shell company, had taken out a legitimate bank loan to do so, the judge ruled. 

She also pointed out that Ms Nazarbayeva was named by Forbes Magazine as one of the richest people in Kazakhstan in 2013. Ms Nazarbayeva, one of the country’s most senior politicians, owns the Highgate property and the two flats in Chelsea, according to court papers.

The case marks the second time in 12 months that the NCA has had to defend an unexplained wealth order in court after Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of an Azeri banker, last year unsuccessfully challenged the first UWO issued by the agency. 

Following the judgment on Wednesday Mr Aliyev said he had been “vindicated” and called the NCA’s investigation “entirely without merit”.

Ms Nazarbayeva said the agency had used “the cloak of these court proceedings to make damaging attacks on her reputation and her country”.

Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, said the court ruling was a “setback” for the agency but welcomed the decision to appeal it. “The complex web of secretive companies that owned these properties made it extremely difficult for investigators to identify the individuals behind them and their source of funds,” he said.

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