Global Fraud Footprint

U.K.'s 'Unexplained Wealth Orders' puts teeth into money-laundering fight

The United Kingdom is a haven for dirty money. Some estimate that money launderers might be hiding 90 billion pounds per year — primarily through high-end real estate. The “Unexplained Wealth Orders,” introduced in 2018, might be stanching the flow.

The U.K. appears to be showing it wants to combat its reputation — especially in London — as a haven for international money launderers. Several high-profile cases seem to show that the country is increasing its anti-money laundering controls and enforcement.

A watershed moment in the U.K.’s anti-money laundering fight occurred in October 2018 when the Court of Appeals revealed the identity of Zamira Hajiyeva, wife of jailed former chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan, Jahangir Hajiyev, in court proceedings related to the purchase of two expensive properties. Earlier in the year, Hajiyeva became the first recipient of an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO), a newly introduced law enforcement mechanism that forces “politically exposed persons” (PEPs) to explain the origin of their assets. (See UK court lifts anonymity for woman who spent £16 million at Harrods in unexplained wealth case, by Laura Smith-Spark, CNN, Oct. 10, 2018.)

Hajiyeva’s properties and spending came under scrutiny because her husband had received a 15-year prison sentence in Azerbaijan on fraud and embezzlement charges. He’d been chairman of the state-controlled International Bank of Azerbaijan from 2001 until his resignation in 2015. Authorities sought to understand how Hajiyeva could afford two luxury U.K. properties worth more than $12 million each, a Gulfstream private jet and shopping sprees at Harrods department store in London totaling more than $20 million over a decade, given that her husband reportedly never earned more than a $68,000 salary from the bank. (See Revealed: Mystery woman who blew £16million at Harrods is wife of disgraced Azerbaijan banker jailed for stealing £125 million, by Nick Fagge, Daily Mail, Oct. 10, 2018.)

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