Banker’s wife is tar­geted for graft

Cyprus Today - - UK -

THE first tar­get of new Bri­tish pow­ers to com­bat the pro­ceeds of sus­pected cor­rup­tion is the wife of a jailed Az­eri banker who spent more than £16 mil­lion at depart­ment store Har­rods, Lon­don’s High Court has re­vealed.

An anonymity or­der was lifted af­ter Zamira Ha­jiyeva, the wife of the for­mer chair­man of Azer­bai­jan’s largest bank, last week lost an ap­peal against an at­tempt by au­thor­i­ties to seize two prop­er­ties worth about £22 mil­lion us­ing an Un­ex­plained Wealth Or­der (UWO).

The onus is now on the owner to show that any as­set worth more than £50,000 was ob­tained by le­git­i­mate means, rather than for po­lice to have to prove it was ob­tained il­le­gally.

Ha­jiyeva’s hus­band Ja­hangir Ha­jiyev, who was chair­man of state-owned In­ter­na­tional Bank of Azer­bai­jan (IBA) from 2001 to 2015, was con­victed by an Az­eri court in 2016 of fraud and em­bez­zle­ment and sen­tenced to 15 years in jail.

The Az­eri fi­nance min­istry said about £2.7 bil­lion could have been mis­ap­pro­pri­ated by Ha­jiyev, who de­nied the charges.

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. They did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

The case is a test for UWOs, which came into ef­fect ear­lier this year with the aim of forc­ing for­eign of­fi­cials sus­pected of cor­rup­tion and their fam­i­lies to ac­count for their wealth and make it eas­ier for au­thor­i­ties to seize prop­erty and as­sets.

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.

Last week, judge Michael Sup­per­stone re­jected Ha­jiyeva’s ap­peal against the UWO al­though her lawyers said they would take the case to Lon­don’s Court of Ap­peal. Sup­per­stone also ruled that Ha­jiyeva’s name, which pre­vi­ously could not be dis­closed, could be made pub­lic on Wed­nes­day.

The NCA had al­leged Ha­jiyeva bought two prop­er­ties us­ing money em­bez­zled by her hus­band when he worked for the IBA.

Ha­jiyeva said in a wit­ness state­ment that her hus­band was a man of sub­stan­tial means. Mr Sup­per­stone’s writ­ten rul­ing made ref­er­ence to a doc­u­ment pre­pared by Werner Cap­i­tal from 2011 which stated his net worth to be about £54.6 mil­lion.

Ha­jiyeva spent £16.3 mil­lion un­der a loy­alty card scheme at Har­rods be­tween 2006 and 2016, us­ing 35 credit cards is­sued to her by the IBA. An ear­lier court hear­ing heard how she splashed out £150,000 on jew­ellery in a day.

How­ever, let­ters from the bank showed Ha­jiyev’s net in­come from IBA was just £22,000 in 2001, ris­ing to £57,000 in 2008.

“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,” said Don­ald Toon, the NCA di­rec­tor for eco­nomic crime.

“Un­ex­plained Wealth Or­ders have the po­ten­tial to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the ap­peal of the UK as a des­ti­na­tion for il­licit in­come,” Mr Toon said.

Ji­hangir Ha­jiyev

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