UK

Woman in £16m Harrods spend fights wealth seizure

Zamira Hajiyeva Image copyright PA Media

The wife of a jailed banker is fighting to overturn the UK's first Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO).

Zamira Hajiyeva, who spent £16m in Harrods, faces losing her £15m Knightsbridge home and a Berkshire golf course to the National Crime Agency.

Her husband is in prison in their native Azerbaijan for stealing millions from a state-owned bank he once headed.

Mrs Hajiyeva denies all allegations of wrongdoing and the Court of Appeal was told she has been unfairly targeted.

James Lewis QC, who is representing Mrs Hajiyeva, said the NCA's entire case was based on unsupported claims that she had benefited from political corruption.

"UWOs are available against 'politically exposed persons' and their families even in the absence of any reasonable grounds to suspect criminal activity on their part," said Mr Lewis in legal submissions.

"They are therefore the most draconian and intrusive powers available to financial investigators in the UK today - and by some margin."

54 credit cards

Mrs Hajiyeva's husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, was given a 15-year jail sentence for corruption following an unjust trial and was not able to defend the source of the family's wealth in court in London, said Mr Lewis.

He added a judge's earlier conclusion that Mr Hajiyev was a potentially corrupt foreign official was flawed because he had merely headed a commercial bank with state shareholders, rather than a bank that was carrying out state functions.

That meant, argued Mr Lewis, Mrs Hajiyeva should no longer have to prove to the NCA where her wealth came from.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mrs Hajiyeva's home in Knightsbridge, a short walk from Harrods

During proceedings last year, the High Court was told that she spent an average of £4,000 a day in Harrods over 10 years to 2016 - spreading the cost of the jewellery and designer clothes over 54 credit cards, the majority issued by her husband's bank.

Auction bid

In fresh papers disclosed at the Court of Appeal, the National Crime Agency revealed new details about its concerns over the family's activities in London.

The documents state that following Mrs Hajiyeva's attempt last year to stop the UWO being imposed, her daughter, Leyla Mahmudova, took 49 items of jewellery worth £400,000 to the Christie's auction house.

"[Mrs Hajiyeva's] daughter attempted to sell high-value jewellery (some of which had been purchased by Mr Hajiyev), and that ZH is under investigation in Azerbaijan for fraudulently spending significant sums on air tickets, jewellery, tuition fees, beauty products, restaurants and hotels," said the NCA.

Jonathan Hall QC, for the agency, said its order simply required Mrs Hajiyeva to respond to reasonable suspicions - including why her home was owned by a company based in the British Virgin Islands.

Claims that her husband had made his money selling fridge-freezers were wholly implausible, he added.

A judgement in the case is expected next year.

The result will indicate whether this tool has a powerful enough legal punch to help seize billions of pounds worth of British property belonging to suspected corrupt foreign officials and their families.

More on this story