Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) are investigative tools that became available on 31 January 2018 in order to help investigators to trace suspicious money flows into Britain. UWOs can be imposed on foreign citizens and reverse the burden of proof, requiring an individual with unexplained assets over £50,000 to prove the legitimacy of these assets. Failure to explain the nature and extent of an interest in particular property or to explain how such property was obtained (especially in terms of funding) creates a presumption that it was obtained through criminal conduct and can result in the confiscation of the property in question.
Zamira Hajiyeva, the first person to be targeted by a UWO in February 2018, has fought providing the information required by the UWO for almost three years. Recently before the Supreme Court, Mrs Hajiyeva lost her final attempt to dismiss the two orders against two properties and now must explain the source of monies used to buy properties worth more than £22 million: her Chelsea home and a golf course in Berkshire. If she cannot satisfy the National Crime Agency (NCA) that these have been acquired with legitimate funds, both properties will be seized.
Mrs Hajiyeva, 56, whose husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, is serving a 15-year sentence in Azerbaijan for a £100 million fraud against the state bank, has challenged the UWO, arguing that her husband earned his fortune legitimately and was the subject of an unfair trial in Azerbaijan. Mrs Hajiyeva’s last resort was an application to the Supreme Court to have the order overturned, but her application has been dismissed.
The decision is a significant victory for the NCA, which suffered a setback last year when it was forced to drop a UWOagainst Dariga Nazarbayeva, the ex-wife of Rakhat Aliyev, a former Kazak official, and Nurali Aliyev, their son, after she was able to show what was deemed to be a legitimate source of money for the purchase of various London properties. The Court of Appeal dismissed the NCA's appeal of that decision but noted that but noted that UWOs are a “relatively new tool” which would "benefit from further judicial analysis”.
On 21 December 2020, Graeme Biggar, director-general of the National Economic Crime Centre at the NCA, said in relation to Mrs Hajiyeva's application being dismissed: “This is a significant result which is important in establishing Unexplained Wealth Orders as a powerful tool for financial investigations. This was the first UWO secured and the NCA has been determined throughout the many legal challenges faced over the last two years. This case will set a helpful precedent for future UWO cases. There are no further routes for Mrs Hajiyeva to appeal against the order. She will now be required to provide the NCA with the information we are seeking in connection with these assets”.
Mrs Hajiyeva will have to comply with the order and provide the full answer to NCA in relation to the properties in question by the end of the winter.