Zamira Hajiyeva is the wife of a former Azerbaijan banker who, in 2016, was convicted of fraud and corruption. He was chairman of the Azerbaijan International Bank, a state-owned banking company, and resigned in 2015 for health reasons. The following year Hajiyev was sentenced to 15 years in prison for embezzlement and fraud. It was during this time period that Zamira Hajiyeva spent tens of millions of pounds including hundreds of thousands of pounds on luxury goods in the exclusive London department store Harrods.
But the Harrods spree was not the only one made by the Azerbaijani family in London. In 2009, they bought a home in the high-end neighborhood of Knightsbridge. The property was acquired through a company registered in the Virgin Islands, a British tax haven. Also, in 2013, Ms Hajiyeva bought a golf course worth 10.5 million pounds.
Last week, the British anti-organised crime agency launched an investigation into the Hajiyev family by issuing an unexplained wealth order, the first time the procedure has been invoked since it was adopted earlier this year. The order allows the British authorities to ask someone to account for the source of their wealth, in an effort to reduce the amount of “black money” that gets “washed” through the UK financial system.
The British capital is a magnet for Russian oligarchs, oil princes and other questionable sources of wealth.
A report published in 2015 by Transparency International showed that approximately 40,000 properties in the UK are owned by companies registered in tax havens, without revealing the true identity of the owner.
To be sure, the use of offshore accounts does not necessarily mean that the money is being laundered; however, British authorities confirm that properties in London are a target for “black money” from around the world. For example, between 2004 and 2014, Scotland Yard’s anti-corruption unit opened investigations totaling 180 million pounds. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, according to British specialists.
Examples of suspect purchases made by wealthy foreigners include a small hotel bought by the President of the Nigerian Senate, an apartment owned by the Nigerian Senate Vice President, and a property bought by the son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
In order to raise public awareness of this issue, several anti-corruption organisations carried out a visit to a number of areas in London last September to document suspicious houses or apartments that were purchased with laundered money.