Britain may be forced to hand back millions of pounds seized from the Harrods 'big spender' to Azerbaijan, the National Crime Agency chief has admitted.
Donald Toon, the agency’s director of economic crime, has revealed that if the High Court rules Zamira Hajiyeva had used fraudulent funds any property and money seized from her would be returned to her native country.
Mrs Hajiyeva, 55, was named yesterday as being at the centre of a McMafia style financial investigation amid allegations that she used her husband’s stolen money to fund a lavish lifestyle.
The Azerbaijan national has lived in Knightsbridge for more than a decade during which time she has spent more than £16 million in the Harrods department store. Her five-bedroom house is worth £15 million and she also bought the Mill Ride golf and country club in Ascot for £10.5 million.
Her husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, the former chairman of the the International Bank of Azerbaijan, was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in 2016 for defrauding the bank out of £2.2 billion.
The National Crime Agency claims Mrs Hajiyeva had used funds raised fraudulently to fund property purchases in the UK.
Mr Justice Supperstone has ordered that she must comply with the UWO order and explain how she acquired her wealth. Her lawyers, who issued a statement insisting the order did not imply any wrongdoing on behalf of their client, are arguing that she is the wife of a legitimate businessman.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Mr Toon said if the agency won their case the would used the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to apply to the courts to seize a number of her properties.
Asked who would then have a right to claim that wealth, he said: “Ultimately, that becomes a political and international issue.
“So, in the first instance the value of those assets would come into the UK Government, and then there is a direct engagement between the originating country of the money and the UK about the extent of repatriation.”
Mr Hajiyev had worked for Azerbaijan’s state-owned bank and so that country’s government would be able to claim a right to clawing bakc any funds fraudulently used by Mrs Hajiyeva that they believe were obtained by her husband from their bank.
Mr Toon added that other eight people currently being pursued by the agency under the Unexplained Wealth Order powers came from Africa, South Asia, states with in the former Soviet Union and Russia.