Jailed McMafia banker 'causing trouble from prison to disrupt seizure of wife's jewellery worth millions'

Zamira Hajiyeva  (PA)
Zamira Hajiyeva (PA)

The jailed husband of a Knightsbridge woman who splashed out £16 million at Harrods has been accused in court of causing “trouble” from his Baku prison cell in a bid to disrupt law enforcers’ efforts to take ownership of his wife’s jewels.

Lawyers for Zamira Hajiyeva, who is being targeted under an “unexplained wealth order” obtained by the National Crime Agency, are arguing at Westminster Magistrates’ court that proceedings to forfeit her multi-million jewellery collection should be halted because her husband Jahangir is in prison in Azerbaijan and unable to take part.

But the NCA’s barrister Andrew Bird KC told the latest hearing in a protracted legal saga over the jewels that began more than four years ago that the forfeiture litigation should be allowed to continue because Mr Hajiyev was able to participate by instructing a lawyer.

He said the reality was that Mr Hajiyev – who is in prison in Baku imposed for plundering his country’s state bank – was making contradictory statements about his willingness to take part in what the Azeri authorities regarded as a deliberate attempt to “make trouble” and create “ some kind of political or publicity-seeking lever.”

Mr Bird said the jailed banker’s actions included telling the Azeri authorities that “he did not wish to participate” in the London litigation over his wife’s jewels at the same time as saying “the complete opposite” to his sister and his lawyer in Azerbaijan and through them her to Mrs Hajiveya’s legal team.

“His motive is not entirely clear, but the Azerbaijani authorities were perfectly entitled to consider that his motives were to make trouble, and not simply designed to achieve the fair disposal of the substantive forfeiture proceedings in the UK,” Mr Bird added.

“One cannot also ignore the context that Azerbaijan is a sovereign state and that its courts had convicted Mr Hajiyev of a serious fraud, involving abuse of position and trust as chairman of a state-controlled bank, and had sentenced him to a substantial period of imprisonment by way of punishment for his crime.

“The clear evidence so far as the Azerbaijani authorities are concerned [is] that Mr Hajiyev himself had indicated to the Azerbaijani officials that he .. did not wish to participate.

“This gave the Azerbaijani officials every reason to conclude that he did not want to participate and/or that he was seeking to use the UK proceedings as some kind of political or publicity-seeking lever for his own position in Azerbaijan.”

Mr Bird added that Mr Hajiyev was a “convicted prisoner and apparent enemy” of the Azerbaijan state and that it was “very clear” that he had “an axe to grind against the state that has imprisoned him”.

He said the Azeri authorities had also told the NCA that the litigation over Mrs Hajiveya’s jewellery “is being used for absolutely different reasons by Mr Hajiyev’s side, which has nothing to deal with the essence of the case”.

“The evidence is now very clear that Mr Hajiyev was saying one thing to the Azerbaijani authorities and conveying the complete opposite to his sister, to Mr Namazli [Mr Hajiyev’s lawyer in Azerbaijan], and through them to Mrs Hajiyeva’s legal team for the purposes of these proceedings,” Mr Bird added.

The 49 piece jewellery collection at the centre of the forfeiture battle cost Mrs Hajiyeva millions of pounds to acquire and includes a “platinum solitaire diamond ring” first bought at Harrods for £992,000 “Hajiyev” in July 2011 before being re-purchased in November the same year, after a refund for the original purchase, for the higher price of £1,190,64.

Other items include a “Boucheron sapphire and ruby serpent pendant “danger necklace” bought for a VAT exempt price of £863,478 and a Van Cleef and Arpels “cultured pearl necklace with diamond clasp” bought in 2008 in Swiss francs for the equivalent at the time of £310,431.

The NCA alleges that the jewels were bought for his wife with the proceeds of Mr Hajiyev’s criminal conduct and that they should be forfeited.

But Mrs Hajiyeva’s lawyers, who deny any wrongdoing by her or her husband, insist that she should be allowed to keep the jewels and that the forfeiture application should be thrown out as an “abuse of process” because Mr Hajiyev cannot take part.

In a skeleton argument presented to the court, James Lewis KC, representing Mrs Hajiyeva, claimed that the NCA, which has admitted to a disclosure failings, had breached its duty of candour by advancing “submissions… premised on a false basis” in conduct “very far below the standards” which should be expected.

He said these were “serious allegations” and also accused the law enforcement agency of using excessive redactions in the material that has been disclosed.

It details a succession of exchanges about the case between Azeri and British officials, including this country’s ambassador to Azerbaijan and the foreign policy adviser of Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev.

They include warnings of “high” and “serious” reputational damage to the NCA and Azerbaijan if the legal action to forfeit Mrs Hajiyeva’s jewels has to be abandoned because her husband is deemed to be unable to participate on human rights grounds.

One extract further cautions that “any publicity is unlikely to show the Azerbaijani state in a good light”.

Mr Lewis said the communications also indicated that “the Azerbaijan authorities have no real interest in securing Mr Hajiyev’s right to a fair trial” and had ignored “clear evidence”, including a statement from Mr Hajiyev’s sister, that he wanted to take part in the forfeiture proceedings involving his wife’s jewellery.

The judge, chief magistrate Paul Goldspring, adjourned the hearing and will not decide until later this year at the earliest as to whether the NCA’s attempt to secure forfeiture of Mrs Hajiyeva’s jewellery can proceed.

The legal battle has already lasted more than four years and began in January 2020 when the forfeiture application was made by the NCA.

As well as delays caused by the Covid pandemic, the proceedings have previously been held up by extensive wrangling lasting more than a year over whether Mr Hajiyev had been served with court papers relating to the case.

Mrs Hajiyeva has been a target of the NCA since 2018 when she became the first person to be served with an “unexplained wealth order” using new so-called “McMafia” powers introduced by Parliament the previous year.

No money has yet been obtained from her with separate civil recovery proceedings at the High Court over her £15 million Knightsbridge home and a multi-million golf club in Berkshire still pending.