Woman who spent £16m at Harrods loses court challenge

LONDON: The wife of a jailed Azerbaijani banker who spent £16 million in London’s Harrods department store lost her challenge on Wednesday against Britain’s first “unexplained wealth” information requests.
Three judges in the Court of Appeal threw out Zamira Hajiyeva’s attempt to get the order suspended and allowed the National Crime Agency (NCA) to continue freezing her property and some assets.
Hajiyeva’s case is being watched closely for signs of success in Britain’s battle against money laundering and investment of ill-gotten gains in the London property market.
The 56-year-old mother of three was the target of the first set of “unexplained wealth orders” (UWO) issued by the NCA in February 2018.
Her husband Jahangir was jailed in 2016 for 15 years in Baku for embezzling money from the International Bank of Azerbaijan — a state-controlled finance house he headed for 15 years.
UK authorities said they had sufficient grounds to suspect that the tens of millions of pounds she had spent on London houses and at Harrods were illegally obtained.
She had spent £16.3 million over a decade at the upscale London department store and £22 million on two properties.
Hajiyeva was arrested in November 2018 and then released on bail. She is currently fighting an extradition request by Azerbaijan.
The 56-year-old says her husband’s trial in Azerbaijan was unfair and should not be used as grounds for the NCA’s financial information request.
NCA economic crimes department director Sarah Pritchard called the Court of Appeal ruling against Hajiyeva “a significant result.’’
“It will set a helpful precedent for future UWO cases,” Pritchard said in a statement. But the crime fighting agency said its immediate goal was to get Hajiyeva to cooperate.
“We are ultimately looking for Hajiyeva to comply with the original order of February 2018 to explain the source of the funds used to purchase her property, pending any further right of appeal that may granted,” NCA investigator Andy Lewis said.
The NCA has issued two separate UWOs in her case.
But the agency had only issued four sets of UWOs since their introduction in January 2018 because of the legal difficulty in collecting sufficient evidence for their release.
A UWO can only be applied to someone from outside the European Economic Area — a group of nations that includes the European Union and three other states — who holds a position of power that makes them liable to corruption.
Hajiyeva has lived in Britain since 2010. Her attorney argued in December that she cannot be considered a “person of power” in Azerbaijan. — AFP