‘Dirty money’ court battle over £3.2m jewellery

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Zamira Hajiyeva  (PA)
Zamira Hajiyeva (PA)

The jailed husband of a woman who spent £16 million of allegedly “dirty money” in Harrods could give evidence from prison in a court battle over the fate of his wife’s multi-million pound jewellery.

The National Crime Agency is trying to take ownership of £3.2 million of jewels bought by Zamira Hajiyeva before she was targeted with an unexplained wealth order under “McMafia” legislation telling her to explain how she had been funding her lavish lifestyle.

Law enforcers allege that the money came from her husband Jahangir’s corruption and have begun forfeiture proceedings to take ownership of jewellery seized from Christie’s auction house and London’s famous Cartier jeweller after being consigned there on Mrs Hajiyeva’s behalf.

The agency has now told Westminster Magistrates’ Court that Mr Hajiyev, who is serving a 15 year sentence in Azerbaijan for plundering the country’s largest bank while he was its chairman, could be an “interested party” in the fate of the jewellery and might need to give evidence to a future to determine what happens to it.

Andrew Bird QC, representing the NCA, told the court that Mr Hajiyev might even be allowed to participate by the authorities in Baku - raising the prospect of a video appearance from his prison – because some of the money from selling the jewels might ultimately be returned to Azerbaijan.

“The NCA’s case is that this jewellery was acquired with funds which were embezzled, stolen, extracted in various ways by Mr Hajiyev at a time when he was chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan, conduct for which he hs been convicted and is in prison serving about 15 years in Azerbaijan,” Mr Bird told the court.

“The issue is whether has an interest and needs to be a party. One possibility is that the Azerbaijani authorities may have some interest in the outcome of the case because .. if this jewellery was forfeited and then sold the Azerbaijanis could ask the NCA to give them some of the money.

“There are international arrangements which can be used so it may well be in the Azerbaijani authorities’ interests ultimately to allow him to participate.”

Mrs Hajiyeva, who lives in a £15 million house on Walton Street in Knightsbridge which is also being targeted by the NCA, has always denied wrongdoing and insisted that her fortune comes from her husband’s legitimate earnings.

The NCA has told previous court hearings how her purchases, made largely using Harrods’ credit and loyalty cards, included millions of pounds of Boucheron and Cartier jewellery.

An earlier court hearing relating to 49 pieces valued at about £400,000 seized from Christie’s after being consigned there for sale by Mrs Hajiyeva’s daughter Leyla Mahmudova heard that they included a Boucheron sapphire and ruby necklace worth up to £120,000.

Another of the seized pieces was a Van Cleef and Arpels peal necklace valued at £20,000 which is believed to have been bought for Mrs Hajiyeva by her husband in the Swiss ski resort of St Moritz.

Other seized items listed at the time in included a £4,000 diamond cluster and bar necklace and a £9,000 Cartier “Panthere” pendant.

The NCA also later disclosed that it had seized a Cartier diamond ring valued at nearly £1.2 million.

The new court hearing, however, has revealed that the jewellery seizures have been even more extensive.

Mr Bird added: “The assets were seized from Cartier Ltd and Christies auction house. They had been consigned there by Leyla Mahmudova but the evidence is that they were jewellery worth altogether about £3 million which was at least being used by Mrs Hajiyeva.

“She used credit cards to buy £16 million of goods in Harrods. Much of this jewellery was purchased in Harrods with credit cards.”

Another hearing will take place next year to decide what role Mr Hajiyev should play in the forfeiture proceedings before the jewellery’s fate is determined. As well as the jewellery and Mrs Hajiyeva’s Walton Street home, the NCA also claims that the Mill Ride golf course in Ascot was bought by her with illicit funds.

Unexplained wealth orders were introduced in the Criminal Finances Act of 2107 and came into force the following year. They aim to force wealthy foreign oligarchs and organised criminals here living off suspected unlawful profits to show how they acquired their money and can be followed by enforcement action to seize assets if an adequate explanation is not provided.

They have been dubbed as “McMafia” powers in the wake of the hit BBC TV McMafia series about the activities of corrupt Russian oligarchs living in London.

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