Jewellery worth more than £400,000 has been seized from Christie’s auction house by the National Crime Agency over suspicions about how the items were purchased.
The 49 items of jewellery include a Van Cleef & Arpels pearl necklace worth £20,000 that was originally bought in upmarket St Moritz in Switzerland in 2008 by jailed Azerbaijani banking fraudster Jahangir Hajiyev, the NCA said.
Mr Hajiyev’s wife Zamira Hajiyeva is the subject of the UK’s first Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) and the jewellery was being valued for her daughter by Christie’s before they were seized.
The valuables, which also include a Boucheron necklace worth up to £120,000, were seized on Tuesday, and a judge on Thursday allowed the NCA to hold the items for six months as it investigates.
“It is the view of the NCA that the source of the funds to purchase the jewellery requires further investigation,” the agency said.
The world-renowned Christie’s co-operated with the investigation after receiving a request for information about the jewellery from the NCA.
“Christie’s confirms that the National Crime Agency seized items,” the auction house said.
“As this is an ongoing legal matter involving other parties, it would not be appropriate for us to comment further.”
Mr Hajiyeva, who allegedly purchased the jewellery, was the chairman of the state-controlled International Bank of Azerbaijan from 2001 until his resignation in 2015. He was later jailed for 15 years for fraud and embezzlement.
His wife is being investigated under the UWO after she allegedly spent more than £16 million at Harrods department store between 2006 and 2018.
Lawyers for Mrs Hajiyeva previously said in a statement the UWO “does not and should not be taken to imply any wrongdoing, whether on her part or that of her husband”.
UWOs are a new court power introduced in January to tackle suspected international corruption and they make individuals or families account for their luxury lifestyles in Britain.
Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK and an advocate of UWOs, said the jewellery seizure shows how wide-reaching such cases can be.
“The seizure of jewellery purchased by the Hajiyev family illustrates the range of actors exposed to illicit assets,” he said.
“Whilst the role of estate agents and banks has been well documented, those involved in the sale of luxury cars, jewellery and other high-end goods face the same risks.”