A woman asked under new enforcement powers to explain how she acquired properties worth £22m can today be revealed as Zamira Hajiyeva – the wife of the former head of the International Bank of Azerbaijan.
Until now the woman had been referred to only as ‘Mrs A’ and strict reporting restrictions prevented her name, her country of origin and her husband’s name from being reported. However, those reporting restrictions have now been lifted.
Hajiyeva’s husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2016 over an alleged scheme to remove billions of dollars from the bank.
Last week the Gazette reported that Mr Justice Supperstone had dismissed an attempt by the woman, known as ‘Mrs A’, to throw out the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) application for an unexplained wealth order (UWO).
Hajiyeva’s lawyers appealed against the ruling and asked for the anonymity order to be kept in place. Suppertsone said the order should be extended by a week pending any further from the Court of Appeal but the court today refused to grant a further extension.
A UWO is a new power handed to enforcement agencies including the NCA and Serious Fraud Office that allow them to challenge owners of assets worth more than £50,000 to explain how they afforded them if their income appears too low. Criminal lawyers have warned that this could threaten a cherished principle of English law by inverting the burden of proof.
During the earlier trial the court heard details of the spending habits of Hajiyeva, including that she splashed more than £16m at Harrods over the course of a decade. The NCA alleges that this money – and the money used to acquire the properties – was cash that her husband embezzled when he was employed by the bank. Her husband is not part of these proceedings.
According to the Criminal Finance Act – the legislation that brought in the UWO – an order can also be applied to politically exposed persons - politicians or officials from outside the European Economic Area, or those associated with them.
Donald Toon, Director for Economic Crime at the NCA, said: 'The NCA 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.'