Jailed Banker’s Wife Loses Final Appeal on U.K. Asset Freeze

The wife of a jailed Azeri banker must give British authorities information on her assets after losing a Supreme Court challenge to the country’s first so-called unexplained wealth order.

Zamira Hajiyeva, who was identified as part of a crackdown linked to overseas corruption, is prevented from selling or transferring a golf club outside London and her home steps away from Harrods, which the National Crime Agency said Monday are worth more than 22 million pounds ($29 million).

Hajiyeva attracted attention from British authorities after spending 16 million pounds across Europe, including at the department store in London’s tony Knightsbridge neighborhood.

The court ruling “is important in establishing unexplained wealth orders as a powerful tool for financial investigations” and “will set a helpful precedent” for future cases, said Graeme Biggar, the director general of the NCA’s national economic crime center.

Her lawyer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Her husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, the former head of the government-controlled International Bank of Azerbaijan, is serving a 16-year prison sentence in the former Soviet state for abuse of his office. Even though his annual earnings as a state employee never went beyond $70,000 and his wife had no significant income, she owned a pair of properties in Knightsbridge.

Last year, a London court blocked Azerbaijan’s request to extradite his wife over concerns she wouldn’t get a fair trial in her home country. Azerbaijan has since dropped the request.

The British government introduced unexplained wealth orders three years ago to help stop a growing problem of criminals and dictators using the country to hide their wealth. The civil litigation tool forces people with assets of more than 50,000 pounds to prove their funds come from legitimate sources. Failure to comply with the order can allow a court to freeze the assets.

Earlier this year, the NCA completed its first successful use of the controversial power against a Leeds businessman. He also owned properties in Knightsbridge, and reached a 9.8 million pound settlement with the agency.

It came after the NCA was dealt a setback after the family of Kazakhstan’s former president overturned a freeze on the family’s 80 million-pound property portfolio. The agency has now settled the case for an undisclosed amount.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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