Totting up the bill

The details of the UK’s first McMafia-style “dirty money” investigation into a “fat cat” banker’s wife have been revealed recently in 107 pages of receipts from Harrods.

The statements, which detail Zamira Hajiyeva’s £16,309,077.87 of transactions from 2006 to 2016, show the woman treated the luxury store like a corner shop, popping in for £24,000 worth of tea and coffee, spending £10,000 on fruit and veg, and £4.9 million on Boucheron and Cartier jewellery.

Mrs Hajiyeva is the subject of the UK’s first unexplained wealth order (UWO) and the National Crime Agency (NCA) has taken her to court to request a clear account of how she could afford to spend quite so much at Harrods considering she had no income other than the money she earned from interest on her British bank accounts.

UWOs, which have been nicknamed ‘McMafia laws’ after the popular BBC drama, are a new tool to help investigators crack down on the £90 billion tide of “dirty money” flooding into London by forcing suspected corrupt government-linked officials to prove their wealth is legitimate.

If Mrs Hajiyeva fails to provide a legitimate source for her wealth to the High Court, she faces losing her £15 million five-bedroom home in Knightsbridge, just a few metres from the doors of Harrods, as well as a £10.5 million golf course near Ascot.

According to Mrs Hajiyeva’s lawyers, her spending does not and should not be taken to imply any wrongdoing, whether on her part or that of her husband. They did not respond to requests for comment on the details of the spending spree and argued in court that she should not have to prove the source of her wealth because she was not a “politically exposed person”.

Roger Isaacs, a Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “Unexplained spending sprees such as these could be evidence of ill-gotten gains, so any forensic investigation will look at what the money was spent on and weigh up whether the amount spent is in line with a person’s income and wealth.

“It is not entirely surprising that the activities of Mrs Hajiyeva have drawn the glare of the NCA given their scale and the existence of ever more rigorous anti-money laundering reporting obligations faced by professional advisers and banks. It does not appear that she tried to hide her spending habits and the jailing of her husband in their native Azerbaijan for stealing millions from his state-controlled bank was likely to have rung loud alarm bells for the authorities.

“UWOs are a powerful tool for prosecutors and I suspect we will see an increase in their use in years to come especially if cases like this are successful.”

Posted in Blog, The Forensic Blog.