A woman who spent £16m at Harrods in a decade has lost a legal challenge against the UK’s first Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO).
Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of Azerbijani banker Jahangir Hajiyev, had been attempting to overturn a UWO obtained by the National Crime Agency in 2018 against a property in Knightsbridge.
The house had been purchased in 2009 for £11.5m by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands.
Hajiyeva’s husband, who was chairman of the state-controlled International Bank of Azerbaijan from 2001 to 2015, is currently serving a 15-year sentence on charges of fraud, embezzlement, and misuse of public funds.
Hajiyeva had argued that her husband’s conviction, which was the “central feature” of the application for a UWO, was the result of a “grossly unfair trial”.
The 56-year-old was the first person to be subject to an UWO, a new power introduced in 2018 under so-called McMafia laws, named for the book and TV series about organised crime which helped inspire them.
The orders allow investigators to ask any person with assets of over £50,000 to ask about the source of their funds, if their own income appears to be insufficient.
Ed Smyth, a senior associate at law firm Kingsley Napley, said the court’s decision “provides a real boost to the NCA and other agencies in their fight against suspected illicit assets”.
“We can undoubtedly now expect to see more UWO applications in the coming months and years against high-net-worth individuals with connections to funds of questionable origin.”
Sarah Pritchard, director of the NCA’s national economic crime centre, said the agency was pleased that the appeal had been dismissed, and that it will “set a helpful precedent for future UWO cases”.
“This is a significant result which is important in establishing UWOs as a powerful tool helping us to investigate illicit finance generated in, or flowing through, the UK,” she said.
Andy Lewis, the NCA’s head of asset denial, said: “We are ultimately looking for Mrs Hajiyeva to comply with the original order of February 2018 to explain the source of the funds used to purchase her property, pending any further right of appeal that may granted.”
Hajiyeva’s lawyers declined to comment.