An Azeri banker’s wife who spent £16m in Harrods as part of a lavish lifestyle in London and was the target of the UK’s first unexplained wealth order has lost her appeal against a court order to reveal the source of her money.
Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of jailed banker Jahangir Hajiyev, became the first person subjected to new powers given to the National Crime Agency to crack down on the flow of dirty money to the UK, dubbed the “McMafia laws” after the BBC crime drama.
Mrs Hajiyeva is subject to two UWOs relating to the purchase through offshore companies of an £11.5m house in the upmarket London neighbourhood of Knightsbridge and the Mill Ride Golf Club near Ascot, south-east of the capital, that was bought for £10.5m in 2013. She said the orders were based on an unfair trial of her husband, who was imprisoned in Azerbaijan for fraud and embezzlement, and had appealed against a court order to comply.
On Wednesday, the Court of Appeal in London dismissed all five of Mrs Hajiyeva’s grounds for appeal and said she would also have to pay the NCA’s costs.
Ms Hajiyeva will now have to explain how she could afford the properties and her spending, which included £16.3m at the Harrods department store over the course of a decade, which she appeared to use as a local supermarket. If she is unable to explain how she bought the assets, the NCA will be able to seize them.
Receipts from Harrods shown to the court last year revealed the 56-year-old bought expensive jewellery, clothes and even groceries. At one point in 2014 she spent £2,000 on cold meats in a single visit.
The NCA said the family’s wealth was difficult to reconcile with Mr Hajiyev’s salary as a banker, which was between $29,000 and $70,000 a year. In December, a barrister representing the agency also said the Knightsbridge property had the “hallmarks of money laundering which supported the NCA’s suspicions.”
In their judgment, Lord Burnett, the lord chief justice, Lord Justice Davis and Lord Justice Simon said the NCA was fair to be suspicious of his income level, and said a report provided by Mrs Hajiyeva intended to prove her husband was a high net worth individual “posed more questions as to the source of his wealth than it answered”.
Mrs Hajiyeva also argued that the UWOs were based on her husband’s wrongful conviction and the fact that the NCA had wrongfully characterised him as a politically exposed person — someone who could be vulnerable to bribes. The Court of Appeal judges dismissed those lines of argument too.
The NCA has used the “McMafia” laws to stem the tide of dirty money flowing through the London through assets such as property. The measures, introduced in 2018, mean that the NCA can demand anyone with assets of more than £50,000 to explain how they could afford them if their income appears insufficient, and call on politically exposed people to explain their wealth.
In a statement after the hearing, Sarah Pritchard, director of the NCA’s national economic crime centre, said: “This is a significant result which is important in establishing unexplained wealth orders as a powerful tool helping us to investigate illicit finance generated in, or flowing through, the UK.
“As a new piece of legislation we anticipated that there would be legal challenge — we are pleased that the court has upheld the case today. It will set a helpful precedent for future UWO cases.”
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