Woman who spent $21M at Harrods fights UK wealth order

LONDON — A woman from Azerbaijan who spent 16 million pounds ($21 million) on jewelry, wine and other goods at luxury London department store Harrods over the course of a decade has become the first target of a new British rule allowing officials to seize money from people suspected of getting their wealth through corruption.

A court has ordered Zamira Hajiyeva, 55, to explain where she got the money to also buy an 11.5 million pound ($15 million) London home close to Harrods and a golf course outside the city worth 10.5 million pounds ($14 million).

Hajiyeva's husband, former International Bank of Azerbaijan chairman Jahangir Hajiyev, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in his home country in 2016 for fraud and embezzlement.

The case marks Britain's first use of Unexplained Wealth Orders, introduced this year to curb London's status as a haven for ill-gotten gains. The orders allow authorities to seize assets over 50,000 pounds ($66,000) from people suspected of corruption or links to organized crime until the owners account for how they were acquired.

During previous court hearings Hajiyeva was identified only as Mrs. A, but a court order granting her anonymity was lifted Wednesday.

At an earlier court hearing, a lawyer for Britain's National Crime Agency gave details of her spending at Harrods, a large chunk of it using 35 credit cards issued by her husband's bank. Between 2006 and 2016, Hajiyeva spent more than 16 million pounds at the store, 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.

The crime agency argued the lavish spending was a sign the money was ill-gotten.

Hajiyeva denies wrongdoing and is fighting to overturn the order and hang onto her properties.

Her lawyers said in a statement that the issuing of a wealth order "does not and should not be taken to imply any wrong-doing, whether on her part or that of her husband."

They said the order "is part of an investigative process, not a criminal procedure, and it does not involve the finding of any criminal offense."

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