Woman in UK illicit-wealth case loses bid to recover assets

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LONDON (AP) — A woman from Azerbaijan who is suspected by British authorities of having ill-gotten wealth has lost a legal bid to get her seized assets back.

The Court of Appeal in London on Wednesday dismissed Zamira Hajiyeva’s attempt to overturn the National Crime Agency’s asset-seizing order.

Hajiyeva was the first person subjected to an Unexplained Wealth Order, a measure that allows U.K. authorities to seize assets from people suspected of corruption or links to organized crime until the owners account for how they were acquired.

The National Crime Agency wants to know where Hajiyeva, whose banker husband is in jail in Azerbaijan, got the money to buy two U.K. properties worth 22 million pounds ($29 million), including a house around the corner from posh London department store Harrods.

Hajiyeva, who denies wrongdoing, spent 16 million pounds ($21 million) over a decade at Harrods, including 600,000 pounds ($783,000) in one day.

Hajiyeva’s husband, former International Bank of Azerbaijan Chairman Jahangir Hajiyev, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2016 for fraud and embezzlement. Last year, a British judge ruled that Hajiyeva should not be extradited to Azerbaijan, where she is wanted on similar charges, because she would not get a fair trial there.

Ed Smyth, a senior associate at law firm Kingsley Napley, said Hajiyeva's appeal was an important test of the unexplained wealth orders, which were introduced in 2018. He said the judgment “provides a real boost to the NCA and other agencies in their fight against suspected illicit assets.”

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