London couple spent illicit funds from Azerbaijan on models, private jets and school fees, court hears
21 Dec 2020

Illicit funds from Azerbaijan were used by a London couple to fly female models to Ibiza by private jet and pay school fees, a court has been told in a case being conducted under a veil of secrecy.

The National Crime Agency alleges that the spending came from nearly £14 million of corrupt money channelled into this country via a complex network of “brass plate” companies and Baltic banks.

It says that a dentist in Belgium was named as a source of some of the cash and that the funds were held here in accounts with the Queen’s bank Coutts and other prominent institutions including Barclays and Santander.

The couple, who own several mortgage-free properties in London, are claiming that the money is income from property rentals in Azerbaijan.

But the National Crime Agency alleges instead that it is likely to be the proceeds of “corruption, theft or embezzlement” and is trying to seize it through a series of account forfeiture orders.

It has told Westminster magistrates that one of the couple gave false information about his identify to Coutts and that the pair’s money arrived in this country via the “Azerbaijan laundromat” scheme.

It said this involved “channels of companies of which the directors are men of straw” being used to launder money made illicitly by the “ruling elite” in Azerbaijan and that the evidence suggests that the couple have been beneficiaries “of payments made by or on behalf of” prominent individuals in Azerbaijan.

In support of its case, the NCA points out that rather than receiving direct payments from Azerbaijan into their London accounts the couple instead obtained their money from transfers through 21 companies with accounts in Estonia and Latvia in a way that “would not necessarily involve an auditable trail of banking transactions.”

It points out that such methods are “are not unfamiliar to UK Law enforcement and may or may not involve criminal property” but that they can be “a very convenient vehicle for those who may wish to seek to layer and integrate criminal funds into an (otherwise) legitimate banking system.”

The couple’s identities are being kept secret by a court order, which the Evening Standard is contesting on the grounds of open justice and transparency, and are referred to in a court document obtained by this newspaper as X, the husband, and his wife Y.

In the document, which outlines its case, the NCA says that Mrs Y “has lived in London for some years” and has apparently been accepted by the Home Office to have “some legitimate personal wealth”.

It also concedes that the pair is likely to have “access to significant wealth in Azerbaijan and rental income there.

But it says that the amounts received into their London accounts are double the rental profits they declared as the source of their wealth when interviewed by law enforcers and “well over double the turnover of their rental income declared to Coutts” before that.

The document states therefore that “the court will be invited to infer from the evidence that X and Y have used the services of the “Azerbaijani Laundromat” to receive, into their UK accounts, substantial sums over the period 2007 to 2018.”

It adds: “The amounts received appear, on the evidence, to be greatly in excess of the rentals likely to have been generated by their portfolio of properties in Azerbaijan. It is more probable that they are simply the beneficiaries of payments made by or on behalf of [redacted] in Azerbaijan.”

The NCA document points out that Mr X was unable in interview to give any explanation of the role of most of the 21 companies used to transfer the funds to the couple’s London accounts and that at least six of these companies have been named as involved in the Azerbaijan laundromat.

The NCA says that several of the 21 companies that paid money to the couple also received funds from three other “core” UK laundromat companies used to funnel illicit funds.

By Martin Bentham, Evening Standard, 18 December 2020

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