LONDON (AP) — Like many people, Zamira Hajiyeva often dropped by a neighborhood shop, just down the street from her London home, to pick up a few things — including gem-encrusted jewelry and a cellar-full of fine wines.
Hajiyeva’s local shop was posh department store Harrods, where British investigators say she spent 16 million pounds ($21 million) over the course of a decade, using 35 credit cards issued by a bank led by her husband.
Britain’s National Crime Agency wants to know where Hajiyeva got the money to fund her Harrods shopping sprees and buy two U.K. properties worth 22 million pounds ($29 million).
She is also the subject of a separate investigation in her home country of Azerbaijan, where her husband, former International Bank of Azerbaijan Chairman Jahangir Hajiyev, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2016 for fraud and embezzlement.
On Thursday, Hajiyeva was freed on bail by a British judge while she fights extradition to Azerbaijan over embezzlement allegations.
Hajiyeva, 55, is the first person to be subject to an Unexplained Wealth Order, a measure introduced by the U.K. at the beginning of the year in a bid to curb London’s status as a haven for ill-gotten gains. The orders allow authorities to seize assets from people suspected of corruption or links to organized crime until the owners account for how they were acquired.
At a court hearing this year, a lawyer for the National Crime Agency gave details of Hajiyeva’s spending at Harrods, including 100,000 pounds in one day on Cartier jewelry, 150,000 pounds in another trip on goods from luxury brand Boucheron, and 1,800 pounds on wine.
Last week the agency, which investigates cross-border and organized crime, seized 49 items of jewelry worth 400,000 pounds from Christie’s auction house, where Hajiyeva’s daughter had taken them to be valued.
The items included a Boucheron sapphire and ruby necklace worth up to 120,000 pounds and a Van Cleef & Arpels pearl necklace worth 20,000 pounds, which investigators say was originally bought by Hajiyeva’s husband in St. Moritz, Switzerland, for more than 10 times that amount.
Hajiyeva denies wrongdoing and is fighting to overturn the order and hang on to her assets.
Her lawyers have said the wealth order “is part of an investigative process, not a criminal procedure, and it does not involve the finding of any criminal offense.”
Separately, Hajiyeva was arrested last week by British police at Azeri request over alleged embezzlement. A High Court judge ruled Thursday that there were no “substantial grounds” to refuse her bail.
By JILL LAWLESS
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