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Banker’s wife ordered to explain lavish lifestyle as U.K. deploys ‘unexplained wealth’ legislation

LONDON — Zamira Hajiyeva certainly knew how to live the good
life.

There was the £16 million ($28 million) spent at the luxury
London department store Harrods. There was a £11.5 million ($20
million) London home close to Harrods and a golf course outside
the city worth £10.5 million ($18 million).

Then there was the Gulfstream G550 jet ($53 million) and the
jewellery — she spent £150,000 ($258,000) in a single day on
Boucheron luxury goods and on another occasion £100,000
($172,000) on Cartier products.

All this as the unemployed wife of a banker whose income was
reported as US$70,650 in 2008.

Now she has become the first target of a British rule allowing
officials to seize money from people suspected of getting their
wealth through corruption.

Zamira
Hajiyeva
Handout

A civil case against Hajiyeva, 55, marks Britain’s first use of
Unexplained Wealth Orders, introduced this year to curb
London’s status as a haven for ill-gotten gains. The orders
allow authorities to seize assets over £50,000 ($86,000) from
people suspected of corruption or links to organized crime
until the owners account for how they were acquired.

Investigators from the National Crime Agency believe there are
billions of pounds of dirty money invested in British property,
reported the BBC, but it is almost impossible to charge the
owners with a crime or seize the assets because of a lack of
evidence.

The new Unexplained Wealth Orders are an attempt to force the
owners to disclose their wealth.

Hajiyeva, originally from Azerbaijan, is the wife of Jahangir
Hajiyev, the former chairman of the International Bank of
Azerbaijan.

He was sentenced to 15 years in jail in his home country in
2016 for fraud and embezzlement. It was alleged he had
defrauded the bank out of $3.8 billion.

The former chairman denied the charges and lawyers for his wife
branded the case as unjust.

However, it was Hajiyeva’s spending and the court case against
her husband that alerted Britain’s National Crime Agency who
began to investigate.

During previous court hearings Hajiyeva was identified only as
Mrs. A, but a court order granting her anonymity was lifted
Wednesday.

At an earlier court hearing, a lawyer for the NCA gave details
of her spending at Harrods, a large chunk of it using 35 credit
cards issued by her husband’s bank. Between 2006 and 2016,
Hajiyeva spent more than £16 million including £1,800 (£3,000)
on wine and spirits in one day.

The crime agency argued the lavish spending was a sign the
money was ill-gotten.

“The NCA’s enquiries have not identified evidence which
otherwise suggests (that Hajiyev) has been a succcessful
businesswoman or entrepreneur in her own right or that she has
received significant income from other sources,” according to
documents lodged at the court.

Hajiyeva faces an Unexplained Wealth Order relating to her $20
million, five-bedroomed home in the tony neighbourhood of
Knightsbridge and the $18 million Mill Ride Golf Club near
Ascot.

He was very well-off when we married

Hajiyeva denied wrongdoing and is fighting to overturn the
order and hang onto her properties.

The Guardian newspaper quoted her witness statement in which
Hajiyeva described her husband as “a man of substantial means”.

“He was very well-off when we married in 1997 and had
accumulated capital and wealth since the early 1990s. As to the
purchase of the property, this was my husband’s responsibility.
I had no knowledge of any of the payments made to purchase the
property, our family home, their source or any other details,”
it said.

Her lawyers said her husband was a respected businessman who
had accumulated his wealth through sound financial investments.
He was, they said, a typical “fat cat” banker.

In a statement they added: “The decision of the High Court
upholding the grant of an Unexplained Wealth Order against
Zamira Hajiyeva does not and should not be taken to imply any
wrongdoing, whether on her part or that of her husband.

“The NCA’s case is that the UWO is part of an investigative
process, not a criminal procedure, and it does not involve the
finding of any criminal offence.”

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