The wife of a disgraced former boss of Azerbaijan’s biggest bank who was subject to the UK’s first Unexplained Wealth Order when she spent £16million in Harrods will be freed on bail.
Zamira Hajiyeva used 35 credit cards issued by her husband’s bank to splash out £16 million over a decade at Britain’s most extravagant department store, located just a stone’s-throw from her lavish London home.
The 55-year-old will be released on bail pending attempts to extradite her to Azerbaijan, where she faces allegations of embezzlement.
Zamira Hajiyeva, 55, pictured arriving home, is fighting extradition to her homeland of Azerbaijan
She was the subject of two UWOs obtained under the so-called McMafia laws by the National Crime Agency (NCA) against properties worth a total of £22 million.
The 55-year-old was arrested by the Metropolitan Police last week acting on an extradition request from the Azeri authorities.
She was granted bail pending an extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court but remained in custody because of an appeal by prosecutors.
At the High Court in London on Thursday, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker dismissed the appeal on behalf of the Azeri government, ruling there were no ‘substantial grounds’ to deny Mrs Hajiyeva bail.
Zamira Hajiyeva, 55, arrives at her home in Knightsbridge after a court appearance
Zamira Hajiyeva seen walking her dog near her home in central London. She is seen here wearing designer clothes estimated to be worth £8,500
As chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan, Jahangir Hajiyev and wife Zamira enjoyed all the privileges of the super-wealthy – travelling the world in a Gulfstream private jet and drinking the finest wines.
Only a brief kidnapping by her husband’s enemies in 2005 appears to have troubled striking brunette Zamira’s gilded life.
While never earning more than £54,000 a year at the bank, the couple assumed huge wealth, buying two-adjoining Belgravia townhouses for £11.5 million in cash in 2009 and an exclusive Berkshire golf course worth £10.5 million a few years later.
Mrs Hajiyeva’s home in Knightsbridge, central London, was bought through a British Virgin Islands firm with a mortgage of ‘up to £7,475,000’ the Evening Standard reports.
However the powerful couple’s multi-million financial empire came crashing down when Hajiyev was arrested in his native Azerbaijan in December 2015 accused of embezzling more than £100 million from the bank. He is currently serving a 15-year jail sentence in the country for fraud and embezzlement.
Her husband Jahangir Hajiyev is serving a 15-year prison sentence for embezzlement
Zamira Hajiyeva’s husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, speaks during session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting of the New Champions in 2011
A sapphire and ruby serpent pendant allegedly purchased by Zamira Hajiyeva
Luxury items Zamira bought at Harrods during her ten-year £16-million spending spree included a £48,600 piece of Cartier jewellery and three items of Boucheron jewellery worth £40,000, £42,000 and £39,000 – just weeks before buying her £11,500 million Belgravia home.
Heralded for his professional acumen, Hajiyev was awarded the prestigious Queen Victoria Commemorative Medal and named Best Banker in a Crisis by Europe’s business leaders, for his role in leading Azerbaijan through the 2008 financial crisis.
Hajiyev’s personal wealth was valued at £55 million in 2011, court documents have revealed.
A Magic Alhambra bracelet, part of £400,000 worth of jewellery seized by police
A diamond cluster and bar necklace and a diamond Panthere pendant seized by police
Zamira revealed her husband gave her a £1 million-plus present and received a monthly allowance of £20,000 but she began selling off the ‘family silver’ at Christie’s, after he was arrested, court papers have shown.
Zamira fled Azerbaijan but she was arrested ‘in absentia’ on charges of ‘misappropriation of state funds’ and remains on Azerbaijan’s ‘wanted-list’.
Thrown to the wolves by the Azerbaijan’s ruling elite that he once called friends, Hajiyev was jailed for 15 years and ordered to pay back £28 million, following a highly publicised show-trial in October 2016.
She may face losing this 17-acre Mill Ride golf club, which is valued at about £10.5million
Mrs Hajiyeva also owns a private jet like the Gulfstream that is pictured in this file photo
Mrs Hajiyeva lived in this sprawling mansion in Knightsbridge – just a stone’s throw from Harrods – with her husband
Zamira (pictured in 2017) remains on Azerbaijan’s ‘wanted-list’, pictured right in 2010
Zamira sought sanctuary in London and fearing for her safety in her native Azerbaijan, she asked to live permanently in the UK, applying to the Home Office for ‘Leave to Remain’.
Meanwhile financial advisers set up a series of off-shore shell companies to protect the Hajiyeva’s vast assets from the Azeri authorities.
Their adjoining Belgravia townhouses was bought by Vicksburg Global Inc, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands for £11.5 million in 2009. A few years later another off-shore company bought the exclusive Mill Ride Golf Club in Ascot, Berks, for a cool £10.5m.
Zamira Hajiyeva is the beneficial owner of both companies, the British Virgin Island Financial Investigation Agency have confirmed.
Jet-setting around Europe or strolling along the tidy streets of Belgravia, Zamira Hajiyeva was just another rich ex-pat who had hidden her money in London.
As chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan, Jahangir Hajiyev and wife Zamira enjoyed all the privileges of the super-wealthy. Pictured one of the properties they owned in London
What is an Unexplained Wealth Order?
The ‘unexplained wealth order’ was introduced in January this year to help officials identify and seize British property suspected of being bought by dirty money laundered by corrupt foreign criminals.
A UWO is an investigation order issued by the High Court on satisfaction of a number of tests.
A UWO requires a person who is reasonably suspected of involvement in, or of being connected to a person involved in, serious crime to explain the nature and extent of their interest in particular property, and to explain how the property was obtained.
A UWO can also be applied to politicians or officials from outside the European Economic Area, or those associated with them i.e. Politically Exposed Persons.
Boris Johnson, at the time the foreign secretary, said that the use of the orders ‘would be intensified’ in response to the novichok attack in Salisbury.
The establishment of UWOs, as part of the Criminal Finance Act, will enable the authorities to freeze and recover property if individuals are unable to explain how they acquired assets in excess of £50,000.
Agencies which can apply for a UWO include: the National Crime Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Serious Fraud Office, or the Crown Prosecution Service.
But a new law targeting gangsters, corrupt politicians, terrorists and money launderers threatens to strip Ms Hajiyeva of her vast wealth, which the National Crime Agency (NCA) believe was the stolen by her husband from the International Bank of Azerbaijan where he worked.
NCA investigators are demanding the 55-year-old explain how can afford her luxury lifestyle including British property worth £22 million, making her the subject of an ‘Unexplained Wealth Order’ (UWO).
The UWO, which is part of the Criminal Finance Act, enables British authorities to freeze and recover the property of individuals who are unable to explain how they acquired assets worth more than £50,000.
An UWO can be enforced by the National Crime Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Serious Fraud Office or the Crown Prosecution Service.
However Ms Hajiyeva denies her assets are the proceeds of crime, claiming her wealth is the result of husband’s skilful investments.
She told the High Court in a witness statement: ‘My husband was in 2009 a man of substantial means. He was very well off when we married in 1997 and has accumulated capital and wealth since the early 1990’s.
‘As to the purchase of the property, this was husband’s responsibility. I had no knowledge of any of the payments made to purchase the property, our family home, their source or any other details.’
She is fighting the NCA all the way. Ms Hajiyeva has instructed a team of highly skilled lawyers, including a £500-an-hour barrister, James Lewis QC, to argue her case in the courts.
Hajiyeva has been desperate to keep her name out of the news, with her lawyers asking for all court proceedings to be held in private.
However successive judges in the High Court and the Court of Appeal have refused applications to keep her anonymous and Zamira Hajiyeva can today be named for the first time as the subject of Britain’s first Unexplained Wealth Order.
The National Crime Agency were able to track Mrs Hajiyeva’s lavish spending.
Court papers revealed three separate loyalty cards were issued to Mrs Hajiyeva, and between September 2006 and June 2016, a total of £16,309,077.87 was spent by the use of the cards under the Harrods Customer Loyalty Rewards Card Scheme.
The banker’s daughter Leyla and her husband Anar Makmudov live in this home in London
The papers add: ‘Enquiries show that a significant number of these cards, namely 35 American Express, Mastercard and Visa cards were issued by the Bank [International Bank of Azerbaijan].’
Mrs Hajiyeva was recently spotted walking her Pomeranian dog in the streets close to her house.
A neighbour said: ‘I’ve seen her walking her little dog around. But we don’t really talk to the neighbours. It’s why you buy a house in the area. And it’s part of its charm. It is handy for Harrods though.’
Manager of the Mill Ride Golf Course said they were not aware of any court action.
Robin Greenwood said: ‘We have dealing with the parent company but I have never dealt with her [Mrs Hajiyeva]. We don’t know anything about this.’
Three separate loyalty cards were issued by department store Harrods, where she spent more than £16 million between September 2006 and June 2016
The NCA welcomed the news that Mrs Hajiyeva can now be identified.
Donald Toon, Director for Economic Crime at the NCA, said:
‘The NCA fully supports an open and transparent justice system that helps demonstrate our determination to ensure that the UK is not seen as a soft target for the investment of illicit finance.
‘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.
‘Unexplained wealth orders have the potential to significantly reduce the appeal of the UK as a destination for illicit income.
‘They enable the UK to more effectively target the problem of money laundering through prime real estate in London and across the UK, and we will now seek to move further cases to the High Court.’