Court documents reveal multimillion pound 'suspicious spending spree'

By agency reporter
May 29, 2019

Newly released court documents for the UK’s first Unexplained Wealth Orders reveal how the family of a senior public official from Azerbaijan went on a multi-million pound spending spree in the UK before being caught and questioned by the National Crime Agency.

Witness statements and previously confidential documents relating to Zamira Hajiyeva and her husband, Jahangir Hajiyev – the former chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan (IBA), currently serving a 15-year prison sentence in Azerbaijan for his part in embezzling US$138 million – were released after journalists won a lengthy court battle to access them.

The documents show the range of UK professionals exposed to unexplained wealth relating to the Hajiyevs, including a family office who assisted with their investor visa applications. Transparency International has previously raised concerns over the lack of checks on more than 3,000 ‘Golden visa’ recipients between 2008 and 2015. The documents reveal that relatively few checks were conducted either on the family themselves or their true source of their funds during this period.

The documents also reveal a pattern of suspicious spending in UK luxury stores that should have led to the Hajiyev’s being reported to law enforcement agencies. Credit cards issued by the International Bank of Azerbaijan were amongst the payment systems used to fund £16 million worth of Harrods purchases, including designer clothes and jewellery, which were stored in a safe-deposit box provided by the store.

Duncan Hames, Director of Policy at Transparency International UK, said: “These documents reveal the lavish lifestyles that those with unexplained wealth have been able to lead with relative impunity, until now. The lack of checks carried out on the family and the source of their wealth during their application to the Home Office for a Tier 1 Investor Visa is particularly disappointing. As we have previously identified, the operation of this scheme at the time undermined the UK’s anti-money laundering defences. The Government should urgently review the source of wealth of all those that received ‘Golden Visas’ during this period.

"Purveyors of luxury items like those bought by the Hajiyev family should be our first line of defence against stolen funds entering our economy. Ensuring these businesses spot and flag suspicious activity to the police is critical in tackling the flood of dirty money through the UK. When a politically connected customer goes on a massive spending spree with an unclear source of funds, this should raise alarm bells. Businesses should not just turn a blind eye because they welcome the money coming through the door. The law requires regulated businesses to do their bit and so protect the integrity and reputation of the country.

 "We commend the determination of journalists in securing the release of these documents, which have shed a light on how Unexplained Wealth Orders work in practice. As part of the UK’s commitment to open justice, documents like this should be published as a matter of course rather than prised out of the courts after a lengthy dispute.”

* Transparency International UK


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