The mystery woman who blew £16 million in Harrods at the centre of a High Court battle to seize her ‘unexplained wealth’, is the wife of the disgraced former boss of Azerbaijan’s biggest bank, MailOnline can reveal.
Zamira Hajiyeva, 55, used 35 credit cards issued by her husband’s bank to splash out £1.6 million on shopping every year for a decade at Britain’s most extravagant department store, located just a stone’s-throw from her lavish London home.
As chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan, Jahangir Hajiyev and wife Zamira enjoyed all the privileges of the super-wealthy — travelling the world in a Gulfstream private jet and drinking the finest wines.
Only a brief kidnapping by her husband’s enemies in 2005 appears to have troubled striking brunette Zamira’s gilded life.
While never earning more than £54,000 a year at the bank, the couple assumed huge wealth, buying two-adjoining Belgravia townhouses for £11.5 million in cash in 2009 and an exclusive Berkshire golf course worth £10.5 million a few years later.
Mrs Hajiyeva’s home in Knightsbridge, central London, was bought through a British Virgin Islands firm with a mortgage of ‘up to £7,475,000’ the Evening Standard reports.
However the powerful couple’s multi-million financial empire came crashing down when Hajiyev was arrested in his native Azerbaijan in December 2015 accused of embezzling more than £100 million from the bank. He is currently serving a 15-year jail sentence in the country for fraud and embezzlement.
Luxury items Zamira bought at Harrods during her ten-year £16-million spending spree included a £48,600 piece of Cartier jewellery and three items of Boucheron jewellery worth £40,000, £42,000 and £39,000 – just weeks before buying her £11,500 million Belgravia home.
Heralded for his professional acumen, Hajiyev was awarded the prestigious Queen Victoria Commemorative Medal and named Best Banker in a Crisis by Europe’s business leaders, for his role in leading Azerbaijan through the 2008 financial crisis.
Hajiyev’s personal wealth was valued at £55 million in 2011, court documents have revealed.
Zamira revealed her husband gave her a £1 million-plus present and received a monthly allowance of £20,000 but she began selling off the ‘family silver’ at Christie’s, after he was arrested, court papers have shown.
Zamira fled Azerbaijan but she was arrested ‘in absentia’ on charges of ‘misappropriation of state funds’ and remains on Azerbaijan’s ‘wanted-list’.
Thrown to the wolves by the Azerbaijan’s ruling elite that he once called friends, Hajiyev was jailed for 15 years and ordered to pay back £28 million, following a highly publicised show-trial in October 2016.
Zamira sought sanctuary in London and fearing for her safety in her native Azerbaijan, she asked to live permanently in the UK, applying to the Home Office for ‘Leave to Remain’.
Meanwhile financial advisers set up a series of off-shore shell companies to protect the Hajiyeva’s vast assets from the Azeri authorities.
Their adjoining Belgravia townhouses was bought by Vicksburg Global Inc, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands for £11.5 million in 2009. A few years later another off-shore company bought the exclusive Mill Ride Golf Club in Ascot, Berks, for a cool £10.5m.
Zamira Hajiyeva is the beneficial owner of both companies, the British Virgin Island Financial Investigation Agency have confirmed.
Jet-setting around Europe or strolling along the tidy streets of Belgravia, Zamira Hajiyeva was just another rich ex-pat who had hidden her money in London.
But a new law targeting gangsters, corrupt politicians, terrorists and money launderers threatens to strip Ms Hajiyeva of her vast wealth, which the National Crime Agency (NCA) believe was the stolen by her husband from the International Bank of Azerbaijan where he worked.
NCA investigators are demanding the 55-year-old explain how can afford her luxury lifestyle including British property worth £22 million, making her the subject of an ‘Unexplained Wealth Order’ (UWO).
The UWO, which is part of the Criminal Finance Act, enables British authorities to freeze and recover the property of individuals who are unable to explain how they acquired assets worth more than £50,000.
An UWO can be enforced by the National Crime Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Serious Fraud Office or the Crown Prosecution Service.
However Ms Hajiyeva denies her assets are the proceeds of crime, claiming her wealth is the result of husband’s skilful investments.
She told the High Court in a witness statement: ‘My husband was in 2009 a man of substantial means. He was very well off when we married in 1997 and has accumulated capital and wealth since the early 1990’s.
‘As to the purchase of the property, this was husband’s responsibility. I had no knowledge of any of the payments made to purchase the property, our family home, their source or any other details.’
She is fighting the NCA all the way. Ms Hajiyeva has instructed a team of highly skilled lawyers, including a £500-an-hour barrister, James Lewis QC, to argue her case in the courts.
Hajiyeva has been desperate to keep her name out of the news, with her lawyers asking for all court proceedings to be held in private.
However successive judges in the High Court and the Court of Appeal have refused applications to keep her anonymous and Zamira Hajiyeva can today be named for the first time as the subject of Britain’s first Unexplained Wealth Order.
The National Crime Agency were able to track Mrs Hajiyeva’s lavish spending.
Court papers revealed three separate loyalty cards were issued to Mrs Hajiyeva, and between September 2006 and June 2016, a total of £16,309,077.87 was spent by the use of the cards under the Harrods Customer Loyalty Rewards Card Scheme.
The papers add: ‘Enquiries show that a significant number of these cards, namely 35 American Express, Mastercard and Visa cards were issued by the Bank [International Bank of Azerbaijan].’
Mrs Hajiyeva was recently spotted walking her Pomeranian dog in the streets close to her house.
A neighbour said: ‘I’ve seen her walking her little dog around. But we don’t really talk to the neighbours. It’s why you buy a house in the area. And it’s part of its charm. It is handy for Harrods though.’
Manager of the Mill Ride Golf Course said they were not aware of any court action.
Robin Greenwood said: ‘We have dealing with the parent company but I have never dealt with her [Mrs Hajiyeva]. We don’t know anything about this.’
The NCA welcomed the news that Mrs Hajiyeva can now be identified.
Donald Toon, Director for Economic Crime at the NCA, said:
‘The NCA fully supports an open and transparent justice system that helps demonstrate our determination to ensure that the UK is not seen as a soft target for the investment of illicit finance.
‘Where we cannot determine a legitimate source for the funds used to purchase assets and prime property it is absolutely right that we ask probing questions to uncover their origin.
‘Unexplained wealth orders have the potential to significantly reduce the appeal of the UK as a destination for illicit income.
‘They enable the UK to more effectively target the problem of money laundering through prime real estate in London and across the UK, and we will now seek to move further cases to the High Court.’