Millions of pounds derived from the Azerbaijan laundromat – a sophisticated international money laundering scheme – have been seized following a National Crime Agency investigation into money held in bank accounts linked to an Azeri politician.
Financial investigators secured a Forfeiture Order for £5.6million in UK bank accounts belonging to family members of Javanshir Feziyev, who is a serving member of the Azerbaijan parliament, Chair of the UK-Azerbaijan All Parliamentary Co-operation Committee, and Co-chair of the EU-Azerbaijan Parliamentary Co-operation Committee.
Following an extensive investigation, six Account Freezing Orders were obtained for accounts held in the name of his wife, Parvana Feyziyeva, one of his children, Orkhan Javanshir, and his nephew, Elman Javanshir.
Investigators suspected that the funds in these accounts were derived from the Azerbaijan laundromat and as such were recoverable property.
Through the laundromat, money would be moved via a complex network of shell companies that operated bank accounts in Estonia and Latvia, a process known as layering. Some of these transfers were accompanied by documents, including invoices and contracts, purporting to support legitimate and very substantial business transactions.
Following a three-week contested forfeiture hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, District Judge John Zani was satisfied there was overwhelming evidence that these documents were entirely fictitious and were produced in order to mask the underlying money laundering activities of those orchestrating the accounts.
In his ruling, the Judge stated that having exhaustively considered the evidence filed, he was entirely satisfied that there was a significant money laundering scheme in existence in Azerbaijan, Estonia and Latvia at the relevant time.
The total amount ordered for forfeiture, out of the £15.3m initially frozen in the bank accounts, was £5,630,994.19.
Andy Lewis, Head of Civil Recovery at the NCA, said: “This is a substantial forfeiture of money laundered through the Azerbaijan laundromat, and our success highlights the risk to anyone who uses these schemes. We were able to recover these millions without needing to prove the exact nature of the original criminal activity. We will continue to use civil powers to target money entering the UK via illegitimate means.”
Ben Russell, Deputy Director of the National Economic Crime Centre, said: “This case demonstrates the NCA’s commitment to investigating and seizing the proceeds of international corruption and associated money laundering. The UK is hostile to illicit finance, and will use every available tool to tackle it.”