Wife of jailed banker at centre of McMafia wealth order tells court it is based on 'flagrant denial of justice'

Ted Hennessey
Zamira Hajiyeva spent £16 million at Harrods: Ben Cawthra/LNP

The wife of a wealthy international banker is trying to overturn the UK's first unexplained wealth order (UWO) at the Court of Appeal, saying it was based on her husband's conviction after a "grossly unfair trial" in Azerbaijan.

Zamira Hajiyeva - who spent more than £16 million at Harrods in a decade - is attempting to change a UWO obtained by the National Crime Agency (NCA) against a property purchased for 311.5 million in Knightsbridge.

She was the first person subjected to UWO, a new power brought in last January under so-called McMafia laws.

The order enables the NCA to take a powerful person's assets if they are from outside the European Economic Area, liable to bribery or corruption and are unable to explain where their wealth came from.

Zamira Hajiyeva arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Thursday (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Her husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, the chairman of the state-controlled International Bank of Azerbaijan from 2001 until his resignation in 2015, was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for fraud and embezzlement.

But Mrs Hajiyeva, 56, argued her husband's conviction - which she says was "the central feature" of the NCA's application for the UWO - was a "flagrant denial of justice".

Her barrister, James Lewis QC, told senior judges in London on Thursday that Mr Hajiyev's trial was "nothing of the sort", and that his lawyers could not call any witnesses of their own.

He said that "shorn of Mr Hajiyev's conviction, it is wholly unrealistic to suggest that the NCA could have sought and obtained the UWO".

But Mr Lewis argued that Mr Hajiyev was not a PEP because the law which introduced UWOs required him to have been "entrusted with prominent public functions by an international organisation or by a state".

He added that the NCA had "seriously mischaracterised" Mr Hajiyev's job by describing him as a "government official", arguing that the International Bank of Azerbaijan was not a "state-owned enterprise".

He submitted: "The reality is that Mr Hajiyev was the chairman of Azerbaijan's largest bank ... in which the Azerbaijani government had a 50.2% stake in 2008, rising to 60% in 2013.

"Mr Hajiyev was therefore no more a 'government functionary' than Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland (in which the UK Government has a 73% stake)."

Jonathan Hall QC, for the NCA, said Mrs Hajiyeva has an "unsustainable" interpretation of the law, submitting that the International Bank of Azerbaijan was a state-owned enterprise.

Despite a flagship case involving a woman who spent £16 million at Harrods, powers for seizing dirty money from foreign tycoons are being under-used (Getty Images)

Mr Hall added that UWOs "enable enforcement authorities to pursue matters of substantial public interest".

He said: "There is a strong domestic and international public interest in investigating, deterring and preventing serious crime - including money laundering and corruption - and recovering the fruits of such crime."

In a High Court ruling in October, dismissing Mrs Hajiyeva's attempt to overturn the UWO, Mr Justice Supperstone said that "three separate loyalty cards were issued to Mrs Hajiyeva" by Harrods, where she spent more than £16 million between September 2006 and June 2016.

Court documents released to the media revealed that Mrs Hajiyeva spent £600,000 in a single day during a decade-long shopping spree.

A piece that was amongst the 49 items of jewellery belonging to Zamira Hajiyeva seized in 2018 (PA)

The NCA subsequently seized jewellery worth more than £400,000 from Christie's over suspicions about how the items were purchased while the auction house was valuing the jewellery for Mrs Hajiyeva's daughter.

In September, Mrs Hajiyeva fought off an attempt to extradite her to Azerbaijan to face fraud and embezzlement charges on the grounds that she would not get a fair trial.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett - sitting with Lord Justice Davis and Lord Justice Simon - will hear Mrs Hajiyeva's challenge over a single day and judgment is expected to be reserved.

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