22 May 2020
Secret documents showing how a London couple brought at least £14 million of allegedly corrupt money from an “Azerbaijani laundromat” into Britain have been cleared for release by a judge in a partial court victory for the Evening Standard.
Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot said that this newspaper had an “important story to tell” as she granted permission for access to court papers submitted by the National Crime Agency into the husband and wife at the centre of the “dirty money” allegations.
She said the case involved claims by law enforcers that frozen bank accounts held by the pair contain funds “derived from international corruption and .. laundered through a myriad of limited companies” including in Belize, the Marshall Islands and the Seychelles.
The judge added that there were “indications that the funds came in a manner described as “the Azerbaijani Laundromat”, a method of moving money from a ruling elite to the West where property etc is bought”’and that information from Danish bank accounts was also being sought as part of the investigation.
But in a setback for transparency in the justice system, the judge also ordered that the couple’s names be kept secret at least until a later hearing.
She also ordered a temporary “stay” on the release of the full details of the allegations against them because of a pending judicial review over a separate legal issue relating to the case.
The rulings follow an application by the Evening Standard for documents submitted to Westminster Magistrates Court by the National Crime Agency when it obtained ten account freezing orders against a husband and wife referred to as X and Y because of the anonymity order.
Two days of hearings took place as a result during which the couple were represented by James Lewis QC, one of the country’s most senior barristers. His other recent cases include prosecuting in the extradition of Julian Assange and defending Zamira Hajiyeva, an Azeri banker’s wife who has been given an Unexplained Wealth Order requiring her to explain how she bought her £15 million Knightsbridge home and an £11 million golf club.
He argued for access to the documents to be refused, saying that because they contained unproven allegations that the couple “are money launderers and corrupt” it would be disproportionate to release them and contrary to their right to privacy.
By Martin Bentham, Evening Standard, 21 May 2020
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