A woman whose husband is a jailed state banker in Azerbaijan has lost a court fight to avoid being named as she seeks to explain how she paid for two properties worth £22 million ($29 million) in total, Britain's Press Association reported Wednesday.
Zamira Hajiyeva, who is the subject of the first two unexplained wealth orders obtained by the UK National Crime Agency (NCA), also spent more than £16 million over a decade at luxury department store Harrods, a High Court judgment said, according to PA.
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The High Court order dismissing her attempt to throw out the NCA case and maintain her anonymity was made last week, when Hajiyeva was named only as "Mrs A," but her lawyers were given a week to appeal. The anonymity order was lifted Wednesday after a judge ruled that "no good case" had been made for extending it, PA said.
If Hajiyeva cannot explain how she afforded the assets in question, she could lose them. One property, worth around £11.5 million, is in the rich London neighborhood of Knightsbridge, where Harrods is located.
Hajiyeva's husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, was the chairman of the state-controlled International Bank of Azerbaijan from 2001 until his resignation in 2015. He was later sentenced to 15 years on fraud and embezzlement charges, PA reported.
The unexplained wealth order is a new power given to law enforcement agencies this year to tackle suspected corruption. According to the government, it requires "a person who is reasonably suspected of involvement in, or of being connected to a person involved in, serious crime" to explain how their property was obtained, if their lawful income appears to be insufficient to afford it.
Lawyers for Mrs. Hajiyeva said in a statement provided to PA: "The decision of the High Court upholding the grant of an Unexplained Wealth Order against Zamira Hajiyeva does not and should not be taken to imply any wrong-doing, whether on her part or that of her husband.
"The NCA's case is that the UWO is part of an investigative process, not a criminal procedure, and it does not involve the finding of any criminal offence."
In a statement posted to Twitter, Donald Toon, director for economic crime at the NCA, said the agency "fully supports an open and transparent justice system that helps demonstrate our determination to ensure that the UK is not seen as a soft target for the investment of illicit finance.
"Where we cannot determine a legitimate source for the funds used to purchase assets and prime property it is absolutely right that we ask probing questions to uncover their origin."
The NCA will now look to bring further cases to the High Court, Toon added, as it seeks to target the problem of money laundering through London's prime real estate market.
Anticorruption group Transparency International UK welcomed the latest developments.
"We are delighted that this first case is progressing in court, underlining the effectiveness of unexplained wealth orders in targeting suspicious wealth," said the organization's director, Duncan Hames.
"UWOs should now be used more widely to pursue more of the £4.4 billion worth of suspicious wealth we have identified across the UK."
Hames also called for those who provide luxury goods and services to individuals to ask questions if they are known to be public servants on state salaries and to file reports of suspicious activity with the police.
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