Saturday, 20 October, 2018

Azeri bankers high-spending wife targeted by new British anti-graft powers

Harrods department store in London. Alastair Grant  The Associated Press Harrods department store in London. Alastair Grant The Associated Press
Cary Erickson | 11 October, 2018, 13:55

Mr Justice Supperstone overturned an anonymity order preventing the identification of her and her husband, disgraced former chairman of the state-controlled International Bank of Azerbaijan, Jahangir Hajiyev.

They noted it is part of an investigative process, not a criminal procedure.

Mrs. Hajiyeva told the United Kingdom court her husband was a man "of substantial means" at the time of the purchase of the house but records in the court case showed his bank salary was around $70,000.

The Harrods name is illuminated in lights on the front of the department store in Knightsbridge on November 29, 2017, in London.

She also bought a house close to the store - and a golf course in Berkshire.

LONDON-The wife of a jailed Azerbaijani banker has been ordered to explain how she and her husband could afford their multimillion-pound London mansion or face having it seized, in the first case using new United Kingdom investigative powers.

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.

What did Ms Hajiyeva spend her money on?

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Hajiyeva spent 16.3 million pounds ($21.3 million) under a loyalty card scheme at Harrods between 2006 and 2016, using 35 credit cards issued to her by the IBA. She also owns a golf club and has access to a private jet.

Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, said: "We are delighted that this first case is progressing in court, underlining the effectiveness of Unexplained Wealth Orders in targeting suspicious wealth". Transparency International says it has identified £4.4 billion ($5.8 billion) in United Kingdom property bought with suspicious wealth, while other anticorruption campaigners have sought to highlight the problem by taking journalists on "kleptocracy tours" around London's swankiest streets.

Lawyers for Hajiyeva, who denies any wrongdoing, said that Hajiyev was convicted after a show trial and the circumstances of the case did not meet UWO requirements. His lawyers say that he fell out with Azerbaijan's corrupt ruling family and paid the price.

But the National Crime Agency told the court that Mr Hajiyev had been a state employee between 1993 and 2015 - and as an official he would not have had the means to amass the wealth investigators have traced.

During her unsuccessful challenge to the Unexplained Wealth Order, Mrs Hajiyeva said her husband was a legitimate businessman who had become independently wealthy thanks to a string of successful businesses, before becoming a chairman at the bank.

A UWO is a new power which has been created to target suspected corrupt foreign officials who have potentially laundered stolen money through the UK.

The unexplained wealth order is a new power given to law enforcement agencies this year to tackle suspected corruption.

Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA) successfully applied for an UWO in February against Hajiyeva after demanding she reveal the source of her wealth or risk losing the properties.