Millions of pounds derived from the Azerbaijan laundromat – a sophisticated international money laundering scheme – have been seized following a National Crime Agency investigation into money held in bank accounts linked to an Azeri politician, the NCA said this morning.
Financial investigators secured a Forfeiture Order for £5.6m in UK bank accounts belonging to family members of Javanshir Feziyev, who is a serving member of the Azerbaijan parliament, Chair of the UK-Azerbaijan All Parliamentary Co-operation Committee, and Co-chair of the EU-Azerbaijan Parliamentary Co-operation Committee.
Following an extensive investigation, six Account Freezing Orders were obtained for accounts held in the name of his wife, Parvana Feyziyeva, one of his children, Orkhan Javanshir, and his nephew, Elman Javanshir.
Investigators suspected that the funds in these accounts were derived from the Azerbaijan laundromat and as such were recoverable property.
A spokesperson for the Feyziyev family told City A.M. this afternoon: ‘While the family is disappointed that any of the frozen funds have been forfeited, they are pleased to have succeeded in the majority of the claim and to have had the Court confirm that neither Javanshir Feyziyev or any of the respondents have been engaged in corruption.”
He added: “The adverse findings in this matter relate to money which, before it was paid to Dr Feyziyev, flowed through various intermediaries of which the family had neither knowledge, nor control.”
“The Feyziyev family are relieved that the Judge has ordered the release of approximately £10m of which the NCA sought forfeiture, and that this long running matter has at last been resolved, for the most part, in the family’s favour,” he added.
Complex network of shell companies
Through the laundromat, money would be moved via a complex network of shell companies that operated bank accounts in Estonia and Latvia, a process known as layering. Some of these transfers were accompanied by documents, including invoices and contracts, purporting to support legitimate and very substantial business transactions.
Following a three-week contested forfeiture hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, District Judge John Zani was satisfied there was overwhelming evidence that these documents were entirely fictitious and were produced in order to mask the underlying money laundering activities of those orchestrating the accounts.
In his ruling, the Judge stated that having exhaustively considered the evidence filed, he was entirely satisfied that there was a significant money laundering scheme in existence in Azerbaijan, Estonia and Latvia at the relevant time.
The total amount ordered for forfeiture, out of the £15.3m initially frozen in the bank accounts, was £5,630,994.19.
Andy Lewis, Head of Civil Recovery at the NCA, said: “This is a substantial forfeiture of money laundered through the Azerbaijan laundromat, and our success highlights the risk to anyone who uses these schemes. We were able to recover these millions without needing to prove the exact nature of the original criminal activity. We will continue to use civil powers to target money entering the UK via illegitimate means.”
Ben Russell, Deputy Director of the National Economic Crime Centre, added that “this case demonstrates that the NCA’s commitment to investigating and seizing the proceeds of international corruption and associated money laundering. The UK is hostile to illicit finance, and will use every available tool to tackle it.”