The woman at the centre of the UK’s first McMafia-style “dirty money” investigation who has a £1.6m-a-year Harrods spending habit has been unmasked as Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of an Azerbaijani banker jailed for defrauding his state-owned bank out of as much as £2.2bn.
The court of appeal has lifted a veil of secrecy allowing details of the country’s first unexplained wealth order (UWO), in which the National Crime Agency alleges that stolen funds were used to buy her a £11.5m five-bedroom property in Knightsbridge only 100 yards from the doors of Harrods. The court heard that Hajiyeva spent £16.3m at Harrods between 2006 and 2016.
The NCA also claims that suspect cash funded the £10.5m purchase of Mill Ride golf and country club in Ascot. Hajiyeva denies that the purchases were made with fraudulent funds. She has made an application to discharge the UWO but was unsuccessful. Her lawyers are appealing that judgment.
Hajiyeva’s lawyers had convinced a judge to impose reporting restrictions, which prevented the woman, her husband, his bank or their nationality from being reported.
Up until the lifting of an “anonymity order” on Wednesday lunchtime, Hajiyeva could only be referred to as “Mrs A”.
It can now be revealed that Hajiyeva is the wife of Jahangir Hajiyev, the former chairman of the state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail for defrauding the bank out of 5 billion manat (£2.2bn).
The NCA claims that Zamira Hajiyeva is also wanted by Azerbaijani authorities in connection with avoiding the investigation into fraud at her husband’s former bank. She is one several family members whom the authorities claim Jahangir used to take money out of the country. The family deny the allegations.
The high court heard that Zamira Hajiyeva spent £16,309,077.87 on three Harrods customer loyalty reward cards over a decade.
The NCA said it had found that she used 35 different credit cards issued by her husband’s bank to fund the Harrods spending spree. On one trip to the department store she spent £150,000 on jewellery.
The court also heard that Hajiyeva flew on a private jet and boasted a wine cellar stocked with some of the world’s most expensive bottles.
Mr Justice Supperstone has ordered that Hajiyeva must comply with the UWO and explain how she came upon the funds used to fund the property purchases.
UWOs – which have been dubbed McMafia laws after the hit BBC1 drama – are a new tool to help investigators crackdown on the £90bn tide of “dirty money” flooding into London by forcing suspected corrupt government-linked officials to prove that their wealth is legitimate.
The UWO is part of the NCA’s investigative process, is not a criminal procedure and does not involve the finding of any criminal offence.
Lawyers for Hajiyeva have argued in court that she should not have to prove the source of her wealth because she is not a “politically exposed person” and said her husband was not a state employee overseeing a state bank but simply a “fat cat” banker.
If she is unable to prove the legitimate source of the funds, Hajiyeva risks having the properties seized.
Hajiyeva husband’s official salary at the bank between 2001 and 2008 was a maximum of £54,000. However, Werner Capital, a family office that manages property investments for wealthy people, produced a report in 2011 that stated he was worth £55m.
Jonathan Hall QC, who is representing the NCA, said: “As a state employee between 1993 and 2015, it is very unlikely that such a position would have generated sufficient income to fund the acquisition of the property.”
The Hajiyeva case is being closely watched and if the NCA succeed, it is expected to launch up to nine new UWO investigations.
Donald Toon, the 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.
“Unexplained wealth orders have the potential to significantly reduce the appeal of the UK as a destination for illicit income. They enable the UK to more effectively target the problem of money laundering through prime real estate in London and across the UK, and we will now seek to move further cases to the high court.”
Transparency International, an anti-corruption campaign group, said it had identified more than £4bn of UK property bought by overseas buyers with suspect wealth.