UK High Court dismisses ‘unexplained wealth order’ challenge

The High Court dismissed, on 3 October 2018, a challenge to the UK’s first unexplained wealth order (UWO), which had been obtained by the National Crime Agency (NCA) in respect of Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of the former chairman of a state-owned bank in Azerbaijan who was imprisoned on fraud charges.

Incorporated into UK law in January 2018 as part of the Criminal Finances Act 2017, a UWO is a legislative power that allows enforcement agencies to challenge owners of assets worth more than £50,000 to reveal the sources of their unexplained wealth.

Mr Justice Supperstone rejected the eight grounds on which Mrs Hajiyeva hoped to avoid the asset-freezing order and refused her permission to appeal, although he said that her lawyers might approach the Court of Appeal. Orders preventing identification of Mrs Hajiyeva, her husband, their home country and the bank he chaired were also lifted following a further appeal.

Mrs Hajiyeva is the subject of two orders on properties jointly valued at £22 million, a central London house and a golf course in the southeast. She challenged the order on the London home, bought in 2009 by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands of which she is the beneficial owner. She put down a £4 million deposit on the London home and paid off the £7.5 million mortgage in five years.

According to financial records, the golf course is owned by a Guernsey-registered entity called Natura Ltd, which also owns a UK company called MRGC 2013 Ltd. Mrs Hajiyeva was once a beneficial owner of MRGC, which gives the golf club as its address.

The court was also told of a $42.5 million loan for a private jet arranged by a company called Berkeley Business Limited, registered in London. According to Companies House documents, Mr Hajiyev is a “person of significant control” at Berkeley.

Mrs Hajiyeva was also revealed to have spent £16.3 million at Harrods store between 2006 and 2016. She was said to have used 35 credit cards issued to family members and charged to the state-owned bank of which her husband was chairman.

Her lawyers said she could not be called a ‘politically exposed person’, as the orders require, and that her husband’s role had been misrepresented. Mrs Hajiyeva, who is understood to have entered Britain on a tier 1 investor visa, said her husband had substantial means and was independently wealthy when they married in 1997.

Jahangir Hajiyev was chair of the International Bank of Azerbaijan from 2001 until 2015 when he abruptly resigned, citing health reasons. He had a modest official salary from 2001 to 2008 of between £22,000 and £54,000. In 2016, he was jailed for 15 years by a court in Baku for embezzlement, abuse of office, fraud and other charges. He was also fined nearly $40 million.

Donald Toon, NCA director for economic crime, said: “I am very pleased that the court dismissed the respondent’s arguments today. This demonstrates that the NCA is absolutely right to ask probing questions about the funds used to purchase prime property. We will continue with this case and seek to quickly move others to the High Court. We are determined to use the powers available to us to their fullest extent where we have concerns that we cannot determine legitimate sources of wealth.”

Contact the Author
Get in Touch

Please contact us if you have any questions or queries and your local representative will be in touch with you as soon as possible.