Press release 05th Jul 2021

Investigators seize £4 million from Azeri couple in latest ‘dirty money’ case

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More resources for specialist policing would allow investigators to pursue £340 million in property bought with suspect wealth from Azerbaijan

 

July 5, 2021 - The National Crime Agency (NCA) should be resourced to go after the £340 million worth of UK property bought with suspicious wealth from Azerbaijan, Transparency International UK said today, after investigators seized £4 million from an Azeri couple with links to the country’s political elite.

The NCA had previously frozen £6.4 million belonging to Izzat Khanim Javadova, a cousin of Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev, and her husband, Suleyman Javadov. Investigators believed the funds were the proceeds of corruption, theft or embezzlement.

The couple today agreed a deal which will see them hand over £4,033,803 from their British bank accounts. In exchange, the NCA has agreed not to attempt to seize any of the Javadov’s other UK property they had been investigating under civil asset recovery laws.  

Court documents show the couple acknowledged the funds arrived in the UK via the ‘Azerbaijan Laundromat’, an industrial-scale money laundering operation and slush fund used by the Azeri political elite. However, as part of the deal investigators also accepted the couple’s explanation that they were unaware the funds had passed through bank accounts linked to the money laundering scheme, which in total had funnelled £2.2 billion out of the country between 2012 and 2014. 

 

Duncan Hames, Director of Policy at Transparency International UK, said:

“We welcome the National Crime Agency’s action against money that passed through the Azerbaijani Laundromat. Case by case, the police are chipping away at the impunity previously enjoyed by those with suspicious wealth stashed away in the UK. Anyone who used the Azerbaijani Laundromat should now fear for their assets here, and think twice before bringing more suspicious wealth into our economy.

“Creating a credible deterrent against abuse of UK companies and investments for laundering dirty money, will still require many more and bigger cases. In pursuing those cases, investigators inevitably need to go toe to toe with kleptocrats, oligarchs, and their associates. This will require sufficient funding and political backing to ensure the NCA is empowered to pursue even the most contentious of cases.

“This case further highlights weaknesses in the UK’s defences against suspect funds that should be addressed urgently. It is no secret that a handful of British firms were key to the success of the Azerbaijani Laundromat, but it is still far too easy for criminals and the corrupt to abuse the UK’s lax rules on company formation. It may soon require more evidence of identity to vote in person at a parish council election than it does to register a company here. If Britain is to be known as a safe and reputable place to do business, Government should prioritise long-overdue reforms to Companies House instead.” 

 

Research by Transparency International UK has previously identified more than £5 billion worth of property bought with suspicious wealth which merit further investigation. This total includes over 100 properties worth more than £340 million bought with suspect wealth by those from Azerbaijan. Most of these properties are in London. 

 

Notes to editors:

This case also raises questions for the UK Government over how money from settlement cases is handled. While the settlement does not recognise the seized funds are the proceeds of corruption abroad, in previous court proceedings the NCA’s case was that the money was the proceeds of “corruption, theft or embezzlement”.

The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) states that the proceeds of corruption must be returned to the country from which they were taken. Settlements that result from cases involving politically exposed persons from jurisdictions with a poor corruption record should therefore be returned to the benefit of victims of corruption in the country of origin.