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Woman at centre of ‘McMafia order’ will not be extradited back to Azerbaijan

She was the first subject of an Unexplained Wealth Order in the UK.

Unexplained Wealth Order recipient Zamira Hajiyeva (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Unexplained Wealth Order recipient Zamira Hajiyeva (Jonathan Brady/PA)

By Joe Gammie, PA

The woman at the centre of the UK’s first so-called McMafia order will not be extradited back to Azerbaijan to face fraud and embezzlement charges.

Zamira Hajiyeva, 55, won her extradition battle on Thursday after a judge at Westminster Magistrates’ Court ruled she would not get a fair trial in Azerbaijan.

But lawyers representing the Azerbaijani government indicated they would appeal against the judge’s decision.

I have discharged you under Article 6 on the basis you won’t get a fair trial if you return to Azerbaijan Chief Magistrate Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot

The court was told in June that Mrs Hajiyeva had spent up to £15.5 million of embezzled cash in luxury boutiques, hotels, restaurants and grand department stores across Europe.

She is also said to have bought jewellery, gold and flight tickets for herself and family members, paid school fees for her three children and splashed out on health and beauty treatments.

It was also revealed earlier this year that Mrs Hajiyeva spent £16 million during a decade-long spending spree at Harrods – buying jewellery, designer fashion and perfume at the luxury department store.

Mrs Hajiyeva is alleged to have been a member of an “organised criminal group” of 37 people involved in embezzling 97 million US dollars (£76 million) from the International Bank of Azerbaijan (IBA) between 2009 and 2015.

Her husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, 57, was the chairman of the state-controlled bank from 2001 until his resignation in 2015 before he was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison for fraud and embezzlement.

Mrs Hajiyeva was fighting extradition to Azerbaijan in relation to the same allegations, claiming she is being persecuted for her political beliefs and will not get a fair trial.

She was the first subject of an Unexplained Wealth Order in the UK.

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The home of Jahangir and Zamira Hajiyeva on Walton Street, Knightsbridge (PA)

Chief Magistrate Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot said: “I have discharged you under Article 6 on the basis you won’t get a fair trial if you return to Azerbaijan.

“There’s almost bound to be an appeal in this case, we will know for sure in 14 days.

“You remain on the same bail as before.”

In her written judgment, Judge Arbuthnot said she agreed with the Azerbaijani government’s claim and added that there was evidence of Mrs Hajiyeva’s “part in the alleged conspiracy”.

She added: “There is evidence from which dishonesty could be inferred. I find there is sufficient evidence of conspiracy to defraud.”

Judge Arbuthnot also found that there was very little evidence provided by the defence that the case against Mrs Hajiyeva in Azerbaijan was “politically motivated”.

She added: “I have concluded that the request is in fact not made for the purpose of prosecuting Mrs Hajiyeva on account of her political opinions.

“It is being made because her husband defrauded the bank of a large amount of money over a lengthy period of time in a dishonest conspiracy involving many others.”

But the judge said that there was a “real risk” that Mrs Hajiyeva’s trial will suffer a “flagrant denial of justice”.

She added: “I find that the combination of a judiciary which is not independent of the executive, lawyers who are punished if they take on cases of interest to the state, the approach of the court and the authorities to Mr Hajiyev’s trial, all lead me to conclude that there is a real risk that Mrs Hajiyeva whose case is high-profile and sensitive and not a ‘normal’ criminal case will suffer a flagrant denial of justice.

“The assurance from the RS (requesting state) that she will receive a fair trial is not sufficient to relieve the many serious concerns the court has.

“I find that Mrs Hajiyeva’s extradition is not compatible with Convention rights within the meaning of the Human Rights Act and under section 87(2) of the EA 2003 I discharge her.”

Ben Keith, representing the Azerbaijani government said: “We will likely appeal this case.”

A statement issued by Mrs Hajiyeva’s lawyers said: “We welcome the decision of the senior district judge today which confirms that our client, Mrs Hajiyeva, will not be extradited to Azerbaijan.

“There is much more that we would like to say but given ongoing proceedings in respect of other matters and the possibility that the Azeri government may appeal, we will not be making any further comment at this stage.

“Whilst we understand the interest in this case we ask that the press please respect her family’s right to privacy.”

In separate proceedings, two Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) have been granted against Mrs Hajiyeva as a High Court judge found she spent more than £16 million in Harrods between September 2006 and June 2016.

She was targeted by the National Crime Agency (NCA) when so-called McMafia anti-corruption laws came into force last year.

UK authorities want to know how she and her husband could afford to buy an £11.5 million Knightsbridge house a few minutes’ walk from Harrods and a £10.5 million golf club in Ascot, Berkshire.

When Mrs Hajiyeva unsuccessfully attempted to overturn one of the UWOs in October, her lawyers claimed her husband’s conviction was the result of a “show trial” and that his guilt “had been determined by the presidential administration in advance”.

They also said the UWO was part of an investigative process, not a criminal procedure, and did not involve the finding of any criminal offence.

Mrs Hajiyeva was granted permission to appeal against the High Court’s decision by the Court of Appeal.

The PA news agency understands she has launched an appeal which will be heard in December.

PA

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