16 Dec 2019
The wife of a jailed “fat cat international banker” is fighting to overturn the UK’s first unexplained wealth order at the Court of Appeal.
Zamira Hajiyeva, who spent more than £16m at Harrods in a decade, faces losing her home in Knightsbridge, central London, which was purchased for £11.5m in 2009 by a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.
Her husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, was the chairman of the state-controlled International Bank of Azerbaijan from 2001 until his resignation in 2015. He was later sentenced to 15 years in prison for fraud and embezzlement.
But Ms Hajiyeva, 56, is to argue her husband’s conviction – which she says was “the central feature” of the National Crime Agency’s application for the unexplained wealth order (UWO) – followed a “grossly unfair trial” in their native Azerbaijan.
Her barrister, James Lewis QC, told senior judges in London on Thursday that Mr Hajiyev’s lawyers had not been permitted to cross-examine key witnesses or call any witnesses of their own during the trial.
He submitted that “shorn of Mr Hajiyev’s conviction, it is wholly unrealistic to suggest that the NCA could have sought and obtained the UWO”.
Ms Hajiyeva was the first person to be made subject to a UWO, a new power brought into force last January under so-called McMafia laws – named after the BBC organised crime drama and the book which inspired it.
A UWO allows the NCA to seize someone’s assets if they believe the owner is a politically exposed person (PEP) – someone from outside the European Economic Area in a position of power that makes them liable to bribery or corruption – and they are unable to explain the source of their wealth.
But Mr Lewis argued that Mr Hajiyev was not a PEP because the law which introduced UWOs required him to have been “entrusted with prominent public functions by an international organisation or by a state”.
He added the NCA had “seriously mischaracterised” Mr Hajiyev’s job by describing him as a “government official,” arguing the International Bank of Azerbaijan was not a “state-owned enterprise”.
He submitted: “The reality is that Mr Hajiyev was the chairman of Azerbaijan’s largest bank … in which the Azerbaijani government had a 50.2 per cent stake in 2008, rising to 60 per cent in 2013.
“Mr Hajiyev was therefore no more a ‘government functionary’ than Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland (in which the UK government has a 73 per cent stake).”
In written submissions, Jonathan Hall QC, for the NCA, said Ms Hajiyeva’s interpretation of the law was “unsustainable”, submitting that the International Bank of Azerbaijan was a state-owned enterprise and that Mr Hajiyev was a PEP.
UWOs “enable enforcement authorities to pursue matters of substantial public interest”, Mr Hall added.
He said: “There is a strong domestic and international public interest in investigating, deterring and preventing serious crime – including money laundering and corruption – and recovering the fruits of such crime.”
By Chris Baynes, The Independent, 12 December 2019
Read more at The Independent
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