Jailed Banker’s Wife Loses U.K. Fight Over Freeze on House
(Bloomberg) -- The wife of a jailed Azeri banker lost her fight to overturn the U.K.’s first unexplained-wealth order -- a tool heralded by police that forces individuals to prove that their funds are from legitimate sources.
Zamira Hajiyeva, who was identified last year as part of a British crackdown on foreigners linked to overseas corruption, had fought the order after arguing that her husband’s conviction was “grossly unfair.”
Hajiyeva, who had no significant income of her own, attracted attention from British authorities after spending 16 million pounds ($20.9 million) across Europe, including at London’s Harrods department store.
On Wednesday, a panel led by the Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett upheld the freezing order of a leafy golf club she owned outside London and her home steps away from Harrods. The order blocks her ability to sell or transfer any of the assets.
“We are ultimately looking for Mrs. Hajiyeva to comply with the original order of February 2018 to explain the source of the funds used to purchase her property,” said Andy Lewis, head of asset denial at the National Crime Agency.
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 satellite for abuse of his office. Even though his annual earnings as a state employee never went beyond $70,000, his wife owned a pair of properties in the upscale Knightsbridge area of London.
The Court of Appeal judges dismissed the couple’s evidence presented by a fund manager that Hajiyev was already wealthy.
“This report posed more questions as to the source of his wealth than it answered,” the judges said.
The ruling helps establish the unexplained wealth orders as a tool to combat the flow of dirty money into the U.K, the NCA said.
“As a new piece of legislation we anticipated that there would be legal challenge - we are pleased that the court has upheld the case today.”
The NCA and other agencies had been shy to make much use of the unexplained wealth orders until this decision, said Ed Smyth, a lawyer at Kingsley Napley.
“This appeal was a test case for whether they could withstand a concerted challenge,” Smyth said.
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