The houses are legally owned by two companies, but the NCA alleges that these were acquired with illegitimate wealth. A controversial tell-all memoir written by Rakhat Aliyev (who gave himself the moniker "Godfather-in-Law" and died while awaiting trial for murder back in 2015) has been cited as one of several sources that initially raised the NCA's suspicions about the three London properties (which include a 10-bedroom mansion on London's Bishop's Avenue known as "Billionaire's Row", a second mansion near Highgate Golf Club and a Chelsea apartment believed to be worth £31 million). The NCA has stated that there were grounds to suspect that Rakhat Aliyev had enriched himself through the corrupt use of his public position and therefore the properties had not been acquired through legitimately obtained money. Nurali Aliyev, the son of Rakhat Aliyev, occupies one of the properties and he and his mother, Dariga Nazarbayeva, have been ordered to explain how these properties were acquired.
UWOs – dubbed "McMafia orders" –give authorities such as the police, HMRC, the FCA, the SFO and the NCA, the ability to seize assets suspected of being acquired with the proceeds of crime or other forms of fraud. They require those who are reasonably suspected of being involved in serious crime (or being connected to a person involved in serious crime) to explain the nature and extent of their interest in particular property if that property is valued at more than £50,000. Proof that the respondent is suspected of being involved in serious crime is not required if they are a 'politically exposed person' (PEP) or are connected to a PEP.
The first UWO was issued in 2019 against Azeri national, Zahira Hajiyeva. Mrs Hajiyeva was required to provide a clear account of how she and her husband, Jahangir Hajiyev (an Azeri ex-state banker currently jailed for corruption in Azerbaijan) were able to purchase a home in London's upmarket Knightsbridge neighbourhood worth £15m and a golf course in Berkshire. Mrs Hajiyeva's appeal against the UWO was recently rejected by the Court of Appeal. Our analysis of this judgment can be found here.
The three UWOs are being challenged before the High Court with both Nurali Aliyev and Mrs Nazarbayeva stating that they can prove independent and legitimate wealth for their UK property investments. The Court will determine whether the UWOs should be upheld or discharged.
This article was also co-authored by Laura Fabris, a Trainee Solicitor at Fieldfisher.
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