Jailed McMafia banker ‘blocks seizure of Harrods spree wife’s £3m jewels’
A jailed banker whose big spending wife is fighting “McMafia law” efforts to seize her £3 million jewels is deliberately obstructing the National Crime Agency from his prison cell in Baku, a court has been told as proceedings against the couple’s allegedly “dirty money” enter a sixth year.
The NCA claims that lavish jewellery, including a £1.2 million Cartier ring, bought by Zamira Hajiyeva during a spending spree which included splashing out £16 million at Harrods, was acquired using money plundered by her husband Jahangir from the Azeri bank where he worked.
It is seeking forfeiture of the jewels but has been stymied for more than a year by a wrangle over whether Mr Hajiyev, who is in prison in Baku, has been served notice of the case.
It continues to be logjammed despite the deployment of NCA officers to Azerbaijan to give court papers to prosecutors there to hand to the jailed banker in his prison cell and claims by law enforcers that he is being kept informed about the proceedings by his wife.
Mrs Hajiyeva became in 2018 the first person in Britain to be targeted with an Unexplained Wealth Order under so-called “McMafia” powers introduced to tackle allegedly illicit money.
The NCA alleges that she bought her jewels as well as her £15 million home on Walton Street in Knightsbridge, a multi-million pound golf course in Berkshire and other luxury items with her husband’s corrupt fortune, but has yet to recover a penny.
She has denied any wrongdoing and has already called for the case against her to be dismissed so that she can keep her jewels.
Her lawyers have also insisted that there is evidence from Mr Hajiyev’s sister that he wants to instruct English lawyers so that he too can contest the forfeiture despite being thousands of miles away in custody.
They deny that he is trying to obstruct the proceedings and told a new hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court that his refusal to sign or review court papers was because he wanted legal representation in this country first.
The National Crime Agency told the court, however, that it had been informed by the Azeri official who visited Mr Hajiyev to tell him about the action to seize his wife’s jewellery that the jailed banker had replied that he was “not going to make it easy for any law enforcement to deprive them of their property” and had refused to either read any legal papers or acknowledge receipt.
The NCA said the Azeri official had also reported Mr Hajiyev saying that he “could not care less” about the jewellery in London and that he had already been aware before the prison visit of the intention to serve him there with the papers and of the next date in the court case in London.
The NCA said its evidence also showed that Mrs Hajiyeva, who is still living in her £15 million Walton Street home, was “informing him ‘regularly’ about developments and getting his opinion on matters” in the case, contrary to her earlier testimony to the court that her husband had “refused to speak to her since March 2021”
Andrew Bird KC, representing the NCA, said law enforcers agreed that it would be preferable if Mr Hajiyev was represented by English lawyers.
But he said that the court should accept that service on Mr Hajiyev had been achieved and allow the case to proceed to the next stage regardless of whether solicitors were instructed or not.
“It is clear that Jahangir Hajiyev is now fully aware of these proceedings,” he said.
Ben Watson KC, representing Mrs Hajiyeva, said her solicitors had sent ten letters to Azeri prosecutors seeking to facilitate the instruction of English lawyers to represent her husband, but had not received any response. He said a further three letters had also been sent to the Azerbaijan Penitentiary Service, again without reply, but that the court should allow a final opportunity to try to organise English legal representation for the jailed banker.
Mr Watson added that if this effort failed Mrs Hajiyeva’s position would be that the NCA’s attempts to forfeit her jewels “cannot fairly continue” and should be dismissed.
Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring, presiding over the proceedings, adjourned the case to allow the requested final opportunity for Mr Hajiyev to instruct English lawyers. He predicted a further “maze” of legal argument about the future of proceedings if this effort failed.
The NCA was originally targeting 51 pieces of jewellery acquired by Mrs Hajiyeva for forfeiture, All except the Cartier ring, which was at the jeweller’s Bond Street store, were seized from Christie’s auction house where they had been taken by her daugher for valuation. They included a Boucheron sapphire and ruby necklace worth up to £120,000.
Law enforcers have since agreed to remove two swan rings from the list of jewels being targeted, but continue to seek forfeiture of the remainder. Mr Hajiyev is classed as an "interested party" in the proceedings because of his involvement in financing his wife’s expensive lifestyle.
Mrs Hajiyeva’s home in Walton Street was bought in 2009 for £11.5 mil using a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, but has since believed to have risen in value to at least £15 million. Her spending at Harrods included splashing out £600,000 in a day.