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Unmasked! The fraudster’s wife who splashed £11.5m on a Knightsbridge mansion

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Unmasked! The fraudster’s wife who splashed £11.5m on a Knightsbridge mansion and blew £1.6m A YEAR in Harrods using the 35 credits cards issued by her husband's bank

  • 56-year-old Jahangir Hajiyev was chairman of International Bank of Azerbaijan 
  • In 2016 Hajiyev was convicted of embezzlement and jailed for 15 years
  • It is alleged money stolen by the banker was funnelled through his wife 
  • Zamira Hajiyeva spent £16.3million at Harrods leading up to 2016

By Tom Rawstorne and Chris Greenwood for the Daily Mail

Published: 17:02 EDT, 10 October 2018 | Updated: 18:17 EDT, 10 October 2018

Biggest spender: Zamira Hajiyeva spent tens of millions, including £16.3million at Harrods
Biggest spender: Zamira Hajiyeva spent tens of millions, including £16.3million at Harrods

Biggest spender: Zamira Hajiyeva spent tens of millions, including £16.3million at Harrods

On the outskirts of the Berkshire town of Ascot, members of the Mill Ride Golf and Country Club were making the most of the autumn sun this week.

Whether it was navigating the course’s manicured fairways or savouring a sharpener in the lounge bar overlooking the 18th, the scene could hardly have been more bucolic.

To that background there’s no telling quite how patrons of the club, which has previously hosted the PGA European Tour and a number of pro-am tournaments involving England football players, will react when they learn of its links to an extraordinary legal battle that has been unfolding over the past few months.

It has its genesis some 3,000 miles away in the former Soviet state of Azerbaijan and is a tale of corruption and kidnap — and the embezzlement of tens of millions of pounds.

That money, it is claimed, was syphoned off by 56-year-old Jahangir Hajiyev while chairman of the country’s International Bank of Azerbaijan, then spent in the UK.

His name can be published today for the first time after a judge ruled that it was in the public interest for his identity and that of his wife, Zamira Hajiyeva, to be known.

It is alleged that money fraudulently stolen by the banker was funnelled through Mrs Hajiyeva, a ‘striking brunette’ with a pet Pomeranian dog, who then went on a spending spree extreme even by the standards of modern-day London.

Her purchases included an £11.5 million mansion a short stroll from Harrods — something that Mrs Hajiyeva, 55, was clearly determined to make the most of.

Her purchases included an £11.5 million mansion a short stroll from Harrods (pictuerd)
Her purchases included an £11.5 million mansion a short stroll from Harrods (pictuerd)

Her purchases included an £11.5 million mansion a short stroll from Harrods (pictuerd)

Because in the decade leading up to 2016 she would spend a staggering £16.3 million on luxury goods at the store.

In one visit alone she blew more than £150,000 on items of Boucheron and Cartier jewellery valued at up to £32,000 a pop.

She paid for the purchases using the 35 credit cards issued to her by her husband’s bank.

Meanwhile Mrs Hajiyeva’s daughter, who was at school in London, had shares worth more than £15 million, paying dividends of a further £1 million a year.

The family also had a £32 million private jet, a Gulfstream G550, financed by a company linked to Mr Hajiyev.

As for the golf club, that was purchased in 2013 for £10.5 million by a Guernsey-based company over which Mrs Hajiyeva is said to have exerted ‘significant control’.

In one visit alone she blew more than £150,000 on items of Boucheron and Cartier jewellery valued at up to £32,000 a pop
In one visit alone she blew more than £150,000 on items of Boucheron and Cartier jewellery valued at up to £32,000 a pop

In one visit alone she blew more than £150,000 on items of Boucheron and Cartier jewellery valued at up to £32,000 a pop

But quite what control she will exert over her assets in the near future remains to be seen.

In 2016, Mr Hajiyev was convicted of embezzlement and jailed for 15 years in Azerbaijan. His wife, meanwhile, was put on a ‘wanted’ list by police there.

By then she was living full-time in Britain with little prospect of being extradited back home.

Instead, the authorities here decided to step in — with the National Crime Agency making Mrs Hajiyeva the subject of two unexplained wealth orders, or UWOs. UWOs are a new measure that allow investigators to apply to a court to force foreigners suspected of being corrupt to prove that the source of their wealth is legitimate.

The orders have been dubbed ‘McMafia laws’ in a nod to the BBC drama about the activities of super-rich foreign gangsters using London as their base. This case is the first to use them.

At a hearing at the High Court last week, a judge dismissed Mrs Hajiyeva’s challenge against one of the orders. It means the properties could now be seized unless she can explain where the money to buy them came from.

The commanding white-fronted house, complete with pillared entrance, comprises two adjoining properties that have been turned into a single dwelling. It is now valued at £15million
The commanding white-fronted house, complete with pillared entrance, comprises two adjoining properties that have been turned into a single dwelling. It is now valued at £15million

The commanding white-fronted house, complete with pillared entrance, comprises two adjoining properties that have been turned into a single dwelling. It is now valued at £15million

The NCA’s success opens the door to the wider use of the orders. The agency is poised to act in nine cases and other agencies, including the Serious Fraud Office and HM Revenue & Customs, have watched the case closely.

The hope is that they will send out a clear message to those who see the UK as a destination in which to dispose of illicit income.

‘They enable the UK to more effectively target the problem of money laundering through prime real estate in London and elsewhere,’ said Donald Toon, Director for Economic Crime at the NCA.

‘We are determined to use all of the powers available to us to combat the flow of illicit monies into, or through, the UK.’

Since declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan’s journey towards democracy has been a rocky one. The president of the oil-rich nation is billionaire Ilham Aliyev, who in 2003 succeeded his father Heydar Aliyev, the former head of the Azerbaijani KGB. His regime had been accused of torturing political opponents and rigging elections.

To this background, Jahangir Hajiyev’s fortunes flourished.

As for the Mill Ride Golf Club, that was purchased in 2013 for £10.5 million by a Guernsey-based company over which Mrs Hajiyeva is said to have exerted ‘significant control’
As for the Mill Ride Golf Club, that was purchased in 2013 for £10.5 million by a Guernsey-based company over which Mrs Hajiyeva is said to have exerted ‘significant control’

As for the Mill Ride Golf Club, that was purchased in 2013 for £10.5 million by a Guernsey-based company over which Mrs Hajiyeva is said to have exerted ‘significant control’

After attending Azerbaijan State University he did an MBA at the University of Texas, worked in the civil service, then in 2001 was appointed chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan.

The bank is the largest in the country and the government has a controlling stake in it.

As we shall see, his exact role at the bank is disputed. But there is no doubt he was an influential figure with links to the president. Indeed, in 2005, the family fell foul of a kidnap gang that specialised in extorting money from the rich and powerful.

Leaving the Magic Lady beauty salon in Baku, the nation’s capital, Mrs Hajiyeva was abducted. A phone call to her husband directed him to pick up a letter in which a large ransom was demanded.

But after being held for a month, commandos carried out a special operation code-named Black Belt and freed Mrs Hajiyeva.

Ten people, including several former top police officials, were arrested and jailed for life. Prosecutors said the gang was responsible for murdering 11 people and kidnapping the relatives of a further ten businessmen. In the years that followed, Mr Hajiyev’s profile continued to grow.

In 2009, he had the privilege of meeting the Duke of York, then a special trade envoy, at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Baku. It is not known what was discussed, but Prince Andrew’s long and highly controversial friendship with Mr Aliyev has been well publicised.

Then, in March 2014, Mr Hajiyev was invited to speak at the London Stock Exchange in his role as the chairman of the Britain Azerbaijan Business Council.

£32 million private jet, a Gulfstream G550, financed by a company linked to Mr Hajiyev
£32 million private jet, a Gulfstream G550, financed by a company linked to Mr Hajiyev

£32 million private jet, a Gulfstream G550, financed by a company linked to Mr Hajiyev

‘If there is a business equivalent of most favoured nation status, London most undoubtedly would earn most favourite global business hub,’ he said in a speech.

By then the family had been living in the UK for some time. It is understood his wife had entered Britain on a Tier 1 investor visa, which is available to high net-worth individuals.

In 2015, she applied for indefinite leave to remain and is now thought to be a British citizen. It is understood she has a daughter from a previous marriage, and two sons aged 17 and 20 by Mr Hajiyev, all of whom were educated privately in the UK.

There is no evidence Mrs Hajiyeva has ever worked and her own lawyers said she has been a full-time mother since 1998.

In 2010, she told the Home Office she had been given a £1 million gift by her husband and continued to receive large lump sums, including £20,000 a month.

Records for the London house, which came complete with two underground car parking spaces beneath Harrods, show it was purchased in 2009 by Vicksburg Global Inc, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.

The price stated to have been paid was £11.5 million. At the time of purchase a deposit of some £4,050,000 was put down and a £7,475,000 mortgage taken out with Barclays Suisse.

Five years later that mortgage had been paid off. In her 2015 application to stay in the UK she told the Home Office that she was the beneficial owner of Vicksburg.

Convicted: Jahangir Hajiyev (pictured), 56, is serving 15 years' jail for embezzlement 
Convicted: Jahangir Hajiyev (pictured), 56, is serving 15 years' jail for embezzlement 

Convicted: Jahangir Hajiyev (pictured), 56, is serving 15 years' jail for embezzlement 

The commanding white-fronted house, complete with pillared entrance, comprises two adjoining properties that have been turned into a single dwelling. It boasts a wine cellar stocked with some of the world’s finest wines as well as quarters for servants, who this week could be seen coming and going from the house. It is now valued at £15 million.

As for the 175–acre Berkshire golf club, that was purchased in September 2013 for £10,520,000. Although Mrs Hajiyeva was not listed as a director of the company that bought it, documents lodged at Companies House record her as a ‘person with significant control’.

This means she was a person who ‘has the right to exercise, or actually exercises, significance or control over the activities of a trust, and the trustees of that trust hold, directly or indirectly, 75 per cent or more of the shares in that trust.’

She continued to hold that position until April 2016. By then her husband’s situation had dramatically changed. Having stepped down as chairman of the bank in early 2015, Mr Hajiyev was arrested in Azerbaijan that December.

He was charged with various offences including misappropriation, abuse of office, large-scale fraud and embezzlement. The sum of the theft was put at more than £100 million.

Following a trial, in October 2016 he was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. He was also ordered to pay the bank a sum of approximately £30 million. By then his wife had also been declared a ‘wanted’ individual in connection with misappropriation of funds.

With Mrs Hajiyeva living full-time in London, in 2018 action was taken against her here by the British authorities. In February, the NCA announced it had secured its first-ever UWOs against her.

They required Mrs Hajiyeva to explain how she had obtained the funds to purchase the £22 million-worth of properties.

A hearing was held at the High Court during the summer in which she challenged the UWO against the London property.

Jonathan Hall QC, counsel for the NCA, outlined Mrs Hajiyeva’s luxury lifestyle, saying it was a sign that she was spending illicitly obtained money.

He added that some of the credit cards she used had been issued by her husband’s bank and that the ‘extraordinary nature’ of her spending was ‘strongly suggestive of spending money that did not belong’ to her.

Her husband, he said, was a state employee and that ‘it is very unlikely that such a position would have generated sufficient income to fund the acquisition of the property’. Documents produced in court showed Mr Hajiyev had a modest salary from 2001 to 2008 of between £22,000 and £54,000,

But in a statement submitted to court, Mrs Hajiyeva said he had substantial means and was independently wealthy when they married in 1997.

‘He was very well-off when we married and had accumulated capital and wealth since the early 1990s,’ she said. ‘I understand, but have no way of evidencing the fact, that he had a number of business interests before joining the bank, and he maintained those investments. He also had a substantial portfolio of shares in the bank, and was always very proud that the bank was doing so well.

‘As to the purchase of the property, this was my 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 detail.’

Her lawyers claimed the NCA was wrong to characterise Mr Hajiyev as a low-paid state employee and that he had earned his money legitimately as a businessman.

‘He was a fat-cat international banker who went to Davos as part of his activities,’ said James Lewis QC, representing Mrs Hajiyeva. ‘He was a well-known international banker at a commercial bank. He is not a civil servant any more than the chairman of RBS.’

He said that his client’s spending showed only that she had ‘significant money available’ and how she chose to use it did not indicate any criminality. He also claimed that her husband did not meet the criteria necessary for an UWO to be brought, claimed that his fraud conviction in his home country was ‘flagrantly unjust’ and that it was unfair to pursue his wife while he was still in prison.

But last week a High Court judge ruled in favour of the NCA, dismissing Mrs Hajiyeva’s attempt to challenge the order.

Her lawyers are now understood to have applied for permission to challenge that ruling in the Court of Appeal. Whatever the outcome of those proceedings, for the time being both contested properties remain frozen.

Documents at the Land Registry relating to them have been marked with a restriction notice stating that the High Court has ordered that ‘no disposition of the registered estate is to be registered except with the consent of the National Crime Agency’.

Last night, her lawyer said: ‘The decision of the High Court upholding the grant of an Unexplained Wealth Order against Zamira Hajiyeva does not and should not be taken to imply any wrongdoing, whether on her part or that of her husband.

‘The NCA’s case is that the UWO is part of an investigative process, not a criminal procedure, and it does not involve the finding of any criminal offence.’

The manager of the Mill Ride Golf Course said the club was not aware of any court action. Robin Greenwood said: ‘We have dealings with the parent company, but I have never dealt with her [Mrs Hajiyeva]. We don’t know anything about this.’

The hope must be that whatever the eventual outcome of the case, action of this sort will stem the flow of so-called ‘dirty money’ into this country.

Indeed, it has been estimated that a staggering £4.4 billion-worth of property may have been purchased across the country with suspicious wealth.

A sum that even the Harrods-loving Mrs Hajiyeva might find hard to burn through. 

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