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Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The mysterious woman at the center of a court battle in Britain to keep properties worth $29 million has been named as the wife of the jailed former boss of Azerbaijan’s biggest bank.
London’s High Court on October 10 lifted an order protecting the identity of Zamira Hajiyeva, ruling that the public should be able to know the full facts in the case.
Hajiyeva’s lavish lifestyle made her the first target of new legislation designed to target suspected corrupt foreign officials who have potentially laundered stolen money through Britain.
Hajiyeva’s husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, was chairman of the state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan from 2001-15. In 2016, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being found guilty of fraud and embezzlement, charges he denied, and was ordered to repay $29 million.
His wife fled the country and was given permission to live in Britain under a visa scheme for wealthy investors.
In February, Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) secured the country’s first-ever unexplained wealth order (UOW) to target Hajiyeva’s wealth.
Under the order, the NCA can apply to the High Court to seize property when a suspected corrupt foreign official, or their family, cannot identify a legitimate source of the funds used for buying it.
Last week, a judge at the High Court rejected Hajiyeva’s appeal against the UWO, and she now risks losing her property if she cannot do so.
At a court hearing in July, in which the couple were identified only as Mr. and Mrs. A., it was revealed that Hajiyeva, 55, used as many as 35 credit cards issued by her husband’s bank to spend more than $21 million at the luxury store Harrods over a decade.
The court heard that the couple was the ultimate owners of a large home close to the store, a leafy golf club outside London, and other properties.
The NCA told the court that as a state employee, Hajiyev would not have had the means to amass the wealth investigators have traced.
However, Hajiyeva claimed her innocence, and her lawyers said they would take the case to London’s Court of Appeal.
They also said in a statement that the order “does not and should not be taken to imply any wrongdoing” by her or her husband.
“Where we cannot determine a legitimate source for the funds used to purchase assets and prime property, it is absolutely right that we ask probing questions to uncover their origin,” Donald Toon, the NCA’s director for economic crime, said in a statement.
“Unexplained wealth orders have the potential to significantly reduce the appeal of the U.K. as a destination for illicit income,” Toon added.
In Azerbaijan, Hajiyeva was charged with “misappropriation of state funds” and remains on Azerbaijan’s wanted list.
With reporting by Reuters, the BBC, Bloomberg, and the Daily Mail