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.


Ex-PM May attacks ‘reckless’ UK Brexit plan

Updated 1 min 46 sec ago

Ex-PM May attacks ‘reckless’ UK Brexit plan

LONDON: Britain’s former prime minister Theresa May said Monday she would not support the government’s new Brexit legislation, which will break international law, accusing the government of acting “recklessly and irresponsibly.”
May, whose 2016-2019 premiership was derailed by the tortuous Brexit process, said the draft law would “lead to untold damage to the United Kingdom’s reputation.”
“As a result, with regret, I have to tell the minister I cannot support this bill,” she told fellow MPs as the proposed legislation underwent scrutiny in parliament.
The UK Internal Market Bill unveiled earlier this month would override parts of the Brexit treaty struck by May’s successor Boris Johnson with the European Union last year.
Ministers have admitted it would breach international law.
British lawmakers voted last week to allow the draft law to proceed for further scrutiny despite EU calls for it to be withdrawn.
Numerous MPs from the ruling Conservatives cautioned against adopting the most contentious measures in the legislation, but only two ended up voting against it while 29 abstained — including May.
Lawmakers will vote again on the bill on Tuesday next week before it goes to the House of Lords for weeks of further scrutiny.
Johnson has argued it will provide a “safety net” against what he has claimed are EU threats to impose tariffs on UK internal trade and even stop food going from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland.
But EU leaders have dismissed this as spin and warned Johnson to uphold commitments he made in the Brexit treaty last year and withdraw the offending parts of the new bill by the end of the month.
The row threatens to disrupt already tough post-Brexit trade negotiations, fueling growing fears of failure that would see more than four decades of EU-UK integration come to a crashing halt at the end of this year.
Britain left the EU in January but remains bound by the rules of the 27-member bloc until December 31.