The target of the UK’s first unexplained wealth order (UWO) has been made public after reporting restrictions expired last week. Mrs Zamira Hajiyeva will now be required to provide the National Crime Agency with proof of the legitimacy of funds used to purchase two properties worth £22 million, a property in Knightsbridge and a golf course near Ascot.
Mrs Hajiyeva was identified as the wife of Jahangir Hajiyeva, a retired chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan. Mr Hajiyeva is currently serving a 15-year sentence in Baku after being convicted of a number of offences, including embezzlement, abuse of office, and fraud. In addition to his imprisonment, Mr Hajiyeva has had to pay penalties totaling approximately £30 million.
As noted in our earlier client alert, “Show Me The Money! Unexplained Wealth Orders in the UK”, UWOs may be issued on the request of regulators against property valued in excess of £50,000 if the respondent is a Politically Exposed Person (PEP). Controversially, a UWO made in relation to a PEP outside the European Economic Area would not require suspicion of serious criminality. Furthermore, once a UWO is issued by the High Court, the burden of proof is reversed. Therefore, there is now a presumption, unless successfully rebutted by Mrs Hajiyeva, that the properties were bought with illegitimate funds. The use of UWOs so soon after the power was brought into force would suggest that they will become a common tool for regulators to police potential proceeds of crime in the UK economic system; however, how successful they are remains to be seen.