Supreme Court Rejects Appeal to Overturn UK’s First Unexplained Wealth Order

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Overview


Following the landmark case before the UK High Court in October 2020 in which a businessman linked to notorious criminals surrendered £10 million in property, land, cash and other assets at the conclusion of an unexplained wealth order (UWO), the Supreme Court recently rejected an appeal to overturn the United Kingdom’s first UWO.

In Depth


Background

Zamira Hajiyeva is married to Jahangir Hajiyev, a former chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan who, in 2016, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of fraud, embezzlement and misappropriation of £2.2 billion of public funds. Hajiyeva moved to the United Kingdom in 2006 and since then has spent significant sums of money that the British authorities said were out of keeping with her husband’s official salary.

In 2018, Hajiyeva became the first person to receive a UWO under the new anti-money-laundering legislation introduced by the Criminal Finances Act 2017. Hajiyeva was required to provide a “clear account” of the source of her spending, which included:

  • Purchases totalling just over £16.3 million between 2006 and 2016 at London’s upmarket department store Harrods
  • A five-bedroom house in Walton Street, Knightsbridge, close to Harrods, for £11.5 million
  • The 170-acre Mill Ride Golf and Country Club in Ascot, Berkshire, for £10.5 million
  • $42 million on a Gulfstream G550 jet.

Supreme Court Rejects Hajiyeva’s Application for Permission to Appeal

In December 2020, the Supreme Court announced that it had refused Hajiyeva’s application for permission to appeal the UWO made against her by the National Crime Agency (NCA), asserting that her challenge to the UWO raised no arguable point of law. Hajiyeva had already failed to convince the Court of Appeal and the High Court to overturn the order, which means that all her rights of appeal are now exhausted. As a result, she will be required to provide the NCA with the information it seeks in connection with her assets.

Hajiyeva denies any wrongdoing, and her lawyers have said that the case against her husband was politically motivated. In her statement to the Supreme Court, Hajiyeva said that she has been unable to defend herself or her husband because he is in prison and is therefore unable to provide a detailed account of how he became a legitimate and successful businessman. If she cannot explain the source of her wealth, she stands to lose her London home and Berkshire golf course. Indeed, the Courts can fast-track the seizure of her properties without investigators having to even prove a crime.

Graeme Biggar, director-general of the national economic crime centre at the NCA, said:

“This is a significant result which is important in establishing unexplained wealth orders as a powerful tool for financial investigations. This was the first UWO secured, and the NCA has been determined throughout the many legal challenges faced over the last two years. This case will set a helpful precedent for future UWO cases.”

This case serves to highlight the United Kingdom’s commitment to effectively seizing the proceeds of crime. Expect to see the further use of UWOs in the future to address money laundering.