A jailed banker’s wife accused of buying a multi-million pound Knightsbridge home and a Berkshire golf course with the proceeds of a huge fraud has been ordered by the High Court to explain how she funded her extravagant purchases.
Zamira Hajiyeva, who also went on a £16 million spending spree at Harrods, wanted to have action by the National Crime Agency to seize her properties halted on the grounds that her husband Jahangir is in prison in Baku for carrying out the fraud and unable to take part in the legal proceedings.
But a High Court judge, Mr Justice Freedman, has thrown out her application after hearing that Mr Hajiyev had no “proprietary right” over either property.
The decision means that Mrs Hajiyeva, who is fighting a separate legal battle against the NCA over the fate of her multi-million pound jewellery collection, will now have to provide evidence to the High Court about where the money came from that was used to buy her Walton Street home in Knightsbridge and the Mill Ride Golf Course in Berkshire.
If she fails to show that the funds used were lawfully acquired, the two properties, which together are said in court documents to be worth £22 million, will be seized by the NCA as the proceeds of crime.
The rebuff for Mrs Hajiyeva came after the NCA submitted evidence to the High Court alleging that her Walton Street home and the golf club had been acquired via her husband’s “unlawful conduct” while he was the chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan between 2001 and 2015.
A summary note of the case, written by the agency’s barrister Jonathan Hall KC, alleges that during that period Mr Hajiyev “with the assistance of numerous associates, unlawfully extracted vast sums of money” from his bank “before channelling them into assets for himself and his family in the UK and elsewhere.”
It says the assets included the Walton Street property and the golf club, as well as a $50 million private jet, “high value” property in Sardinia and rights in an oilfield worth $41 million and that they were acquired after Mr Hajiyev’s allegedly illicitly obtained money was moved via “extraordinarily complex” transactions involving shell companies in “several secrecy jurisdictions”.
The court document further alleges that “false or misleading documents and payment descriptions” were used “to create a paper trail within the banking system for transfers of funds that, in reality, had no genuine commercial explanation”.
It also claims that “methods” were deployed “to disguise or conceal” Mr Hajiyev’s connection to the property being targeted by the NCA and that the “discrepancy” between his income “in his role as chairman of a state-owned bank” and the value of his assets provides further evidence that his wealth was the result of unlawful conduct.
Another court document submitted to the High Court hearing by the NCA quotes a witness statement by one of its investigators giving further details of the case.
It reveals that “property and transactional solicitors working for Baker & McKenzie LLP, Dentons UKMEA LLP, Herbert Smith Freehills LLP and Mishcon de Reya LLP” – all prominent London law firms – were among “a wide array” of people and businesses who “assisted Mr Hajiyev in accumulating a portfolio of assets, managing that wealth, and/or providing information about the sources of his purported income.”
It says, however, that “through deliberate measures, JH [Mr Hajiyev] does not have any interest in the properties [the Walton Street home and the Mill Ride Golf Club] which are subject to the claim” and thus has no right to be involved in the proceedings.
It adds that the jailed banker is “one of a number of beneficiaries of the Platea Trust (which holds the parking spaces at 12-14 Walton Street) and the Greenberg Trust (which holds Mill Ride Golf Club)” but states that as “a beneficiary of a discretionary trust” it does not believe that he has a proprietary interest in the trust assets.”
The NCA document also points out that Mrs Hajiyeva, who in 2018 became the first person in Britain to be given an “Unexplained Wealth Order” compelling her to reveal the source of the funds used to buy the golf club and her Walton Street home, has “stated clearly in her response” that “she is “the sole ultimate beneficial owner of the house at 12-14 Walton Street”.
Mrs Hajiyeva has denied any wrongdoing. The fate of her home and the golf club will be decided at a later High Court hearing.