UK case against woman who spent £16mn at Harrods upheld

(File photo: AFP)
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Updated 05 February 2020

UK case against woman who spent £16mn at Harrods upheld

  • Three judges in the Court of Appeal threw out Zamira Hajjiyeva’s attempt to get the order suspended
  • Hajjiyeva’s case is being watched closely for signs of success in Britain’s battle against money laundering

LONDON: The wife of a jailed Azerbaijani banker who spent £16 million in London’s Harrods department store lost her challenge Wednesday against Britain’s first “unexplained wealth” information requests.
Three judges in the Court of Appeal threw out Zamira Hajjiyeva’s attempt to get the order suspended and allowed the National Crime Agency (NCA) to continue freezing her property and some assets.
Hajjiyeva’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.
Hajjiyeva 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 Hajjiyeva “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 Hajjiyeva to cooperate.
“We are ultimately looking for Mrs.Hajjiyeva 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.
Hajjiyeva has lived in Britain since 2010.
Her attorney argued in December that she cannot be considered a “person of power” in Azerbaijan.


Cross-class marriage urged to tackle Indonesia poverty

Updated 21 February 2020

Cross-class marriage urged to tackle Indonesia poverty

  • Country ranks sixth among those with greatest wealth inequality: Oxfam

JAKARTA: A senior Indonesian minister has suggested that poor people should marry someone of higher social status to reduce poverty.

Muhadjir Effendy, the coordinating minister for human development and cultural affairs, told a meeting on the national health program in Jakarta on Wednesday that he would ask Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi — who also attended the meeting — to issue an edict recommending the move.

Effendy said that the edict could prevent the emergence of “new poor households” and provide Indonesia’s majority Muslim community with a new interpretation of the principle that one should marry a person with a compatible socioeconomic background for the sake of equivalence (kaf’ah) between prospective spouses.

The principle, he said, makes poor people marry among themselves and “automatically give birth to a new poor household.”

The minister on Thursday clarified that his intention with the “intermezzo” statement was to kick-start a social movement to break the cycle of poverty in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s poverty rate declined to below 10 percent for the first time in the country’s history, in September 2019, according to the latest data available from the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS).

The BPS sets the poverty line at $32.13 per person per month, or an average of $1.07 per day.

FASTFACT

President Joko Widodo frequently requests his ministers to come up with ideas to accelerate the anti-poverty programs and close the country’s income inequality gap.

President Joko Widodo frequently requests his ministers to come up with ideas to accelerate the implementation of poverty alleviation programs and close the country’s income inequality gap, which has widened over the past 20 years.

In September, the level of inequality in Indonesia measured by the Gini coefficient stood at 0.380, improving by 0.004 points from the previous year, according to the BPS. The index ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 representing perfect inequality.

An Oxfam report in 2017 showed that in the past two decades, the gap between the richest and the rest of the population in Indonesia had grown faster than in any other country in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is ranked sixth among the countries with greatest wealth inequality, according to the UK-based NGO.

Oxfam said that the four richest men in Indonesia have more wealth than the poorest 100 million people. Inequality is slowing down poverty reduction, dampening economic growth and threatening social cohesion, it said.

However, economists said that suggesting the poor pursue a Cinderella story to graduate from their low-socioeconomic status was not the solution that Indonesia needed to reduce poverty and tackle income inequality.

“How would the state manage such domestic affairs? Even parents could not choose for their children,” Enny Sri Hartati, a senior researcher at the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (Indef), told Arab News on Thursday.

Indef Deputy Director Eko Listiyanto said that there was no guarantee that Effendy’s proposal, if approved, would be effective in tackling poverty. “There is no urgency for such an edict . . . the root of the problem lies with the issuance of economic policies that widen inequality as they only benefit a small group in the society,” he said.

Listiyanto said that the government was unable to drive upward mobility as the majority of its policies revolved around populism rather than empowerment. He called on the government to stop making regulations that served only oligarchs.

“It would be better to improve the national education system to prepare the next generation for their economic leap. That move would be far more sustainable compared with issuing the marriage edict,” he said.

Pieter Abdullah Redjalam, research director of the Center of Reform on Economics (CORE) Indonesia, said that Effendy’s idea of a cross-class marriage edict showed that he was out of touch with reality.

“He seems to forget that there is a very wide gap between the poor and the rich,” Redjalam said. “The poor are generally trapped in the poverty cycle. They cannot go to school, so they stay poor.”

Redjalam echoed Listiyanto’s recommendation of opening access to and improving the quality of Indonesia’s education system to reduce poverty in the long term. “It is a shame if the former education minister does not understand that,” he said, referring to Effendy.