• 20 Oct - 26 Oct, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

A recent court case has given reason to believe that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s quest to bring back what he describes as ‘looted wealth’ from abroad may result in some success, although the process is not going to be an easy one.

A few days ago, it was reported that Britain’s National Crime Agency had been investigating a ‘dirty money’ case in which the woman involved had spent an average of £1.6 million per year for the last ten years at the world renowned London superstore Harrods. The case is the first in the UK under the Unexplained Wealth Order or UWO in which it has been alleged that stolen money was used to buy her £11.5 million five-bedroom property in Knightsbridge, about 100 yards from Harrods, which must explain in some part her numerous forays into Harrods. It is further alleged that similarly suspect funds had been used to purchase a Golf and Country Club in the prestigious Ascot area for a mind boggling £10.5 million. The lady denied the charges but her application to discharge the UWO order was not successful. There was a court order not allowing the identity of the lady to be exposed but that was set aside and it can be revealed that she is Zamira Hajiyev, the wife of the Azerbaijani banker Jahangir Hajiyev who was sentenced in October 2016 to 15 years imprisonment by the Court for Grave Crimes in Baku on charges of fraud, embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds. Jahangir Hajiyev was the Chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan from 1995 to 2015. It is believed that he defrauded the Bank of some £2.2 billion mainly by issuing non-refundable loans for fictional expenses or fictional income projects. Up till the lifting of the anonymity order, none of these details were publicly available.

The National Crime Agency says that Mrs Hajiyev is wanted by the Azerbaijani authorities as are many other family members, said to be used to take the money out of the country. The family members deny the allegations. Reports have it that Zamira Hajiyev used as many as 35 credit cards issued by her husband’s bank and that on one single shopping spree at Harrods she spent as much as £150,000 in jewellery. She flies in a private jet and is said to have a wine cellar stocked with some of the world’s most expensive wines.

The UWOs under which Mrs Hajiyev has been asked to explain the source of her funds, are a new tool in the hands of British investigators to crack down on all the so-called dirty money flooding into London, estimated by some to be as much as £90 billion. The case is being closely watched and if the NCA wins the case, it is expected to launch quite a few new UWO investigations. Donald Toon, the National Crime Agency’s director of economic crime, has said that if the High Court rules that Mrs Hajiyev used money obtained through fraudulent means, her money could be returned to her native country Azerbaijan. But it is not all that simple as Mr Toon himself explained in a radio programme. He said that if the National Crime Agency won the case, it would use the Proceed of Crimes Act of 2002 to apply to the courts to seize her property. If the court granted the order, the question of who would have a right to claim that money would be, as Mr Toon said, ‘a political and international issue’. He explained that in the first instance the assets would come to the UK government and ‘then there is a direct engagement between the originating country of the money and the UK about the extent of repatriation.’

That is an astounding statement and Mr Toon deserves full marks for saying it with a straight face. On what moral grounds could a British government hold on to money which its own courts have ruled to have been assembled through fraudulent means from another country is difficult to fathom. But then they have held on to the Kohinoor for well over 150 years; and in any case, politics is not about morality. However, rather more to the point, there is the prospect of future cases like this one which could lead to a drain out of the UK and no British government would enjoy that, particularly in these dubious times when no one knows what sort of Brexit is on the way and what it will bring in its wake.

Pertinent to Pakistan is the fact that Mr Toon said that eight other people are currently being investigated under the UWO powers and although he did not identify the eight persons, he did reveal the regions they come from. He said these people are from Africa, the former Soviet Union, Russia and, meaningfully, from South Asia – which could be Pakistan, India or Bangladesh.

The problem is that all this will require proof of a certain standard to show that the person being charged was the one who spent the money, that it was obtained through illegal means and that all this happened within the statutory limitation period. None of that is going to be easy. •