Ex-Kazakh president's grandson wins UK case over purchase of London mansion

FILE PHOTO: General view shows houses in The Bishops Avenue, Hampstead, in London

(This story from April 8 corrects to show all three properties worth 80 million pounds and Aliyev connected to one property)

LONDON (Reuters) - London's High Court removed anti-graft orders against the grandson of the former president of Kazakhstan on Wednesday, dealing a blow to powers that British crime fighters use to target dirty money.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) had sought Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) against the companies which owned a London mansion in which Nurali Aliyev lived and two other properties to try to force them to explain where the money to buy them had come from.

However, on Wednesday, the High Court ruled in favour of Aliyev and discharged the orders against the companies which owned the properties.

"The court's powerful judgment demonstrates the NCA obtained the orders on an inaccurate basis as part of a flawed investigation which was entirely without merit," Aliyev, the grandson of former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev, said in a statement.

"The NCA deliberately ignored the relevant information I voluntarily provided and pursued a groundless and vicious legal action, including making shocking slurs against me, my family and my country."

The case involved only the second time that Britain has used UWOs since they were introduced in 2018 in an attempt to stem the billions of dollars of dirty money flowing through the country each year.

The NCA wanted Aliyev to explain the source of funds used to buy the mansion in north London where he lived with his wife and children, which has an underground swimming pool and a cinema.

It had argued the money used to buy the house and two other properties, worth some 80 million pounds ($104 million) in total, was linked to Rakhat Aliyev - Nurali Aliyev's father and the former president's son-in-law - who was found hanged in an Austrian jail in 2015 after being charged with the murder of two bankers in 2007.

Lawyers for two offshore companies that own the properties said the case was "tissue paper thin" and that the funding had come from Aliyev's mother, Dariga Nazarbayeva, who was economically independent.

A spokesman for Dariga Nazarbayeva said that Wednesday's judgement "entirely vindicated" her.

"It is frustrating and disappointing that she has had to take this action to fight these draconian proceedings and clear her name," the spokesman said.

The NCA said it would appeal the ruling.

"Unexplained Wealth Orders are new legislation and we always expected there would be significant legal challenge over their use," said Graeme Biggar, the NCA's Director General of the National Economic Crime Centre.

"These hearings will establish the case law on which future judgements will be based, so it is vital that we get this right."

Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, said that the case "has highlighted major weaknesses in the UK's defence against dirty money that should be addressed urgently."

Britain's first UWOs were issued against a Knightsbridge house and a golf course belonging to Jahangir Hajiyeva, jailed in Azerbaijan for embezzlement from the state bank, and his wife, Zamira, who spent 16.3 million pounds in the London department store Harrods.

(Reporting by Michael Holden and Elizabeth Howcroft; editing by Stephen Addison and Rosalba O'Brien)