14 Jul 2021
When U.K. authorities began investigating wealth belonging to a politically-connected Azerbaijani family, their suspicions were triggered by a raft of “brass plate” companies that funneled more than double the amount of the couple’s stated income.
Almost 14 million pounds ($19.3 million) was routed into British bank accounts controlled by Suleyman Javadov, the son of a former deputy energy minister, and his wife. Among the 21 companies that moved their wealth was Rovers Production and Tourism Ltd., which chartered a private jet to fly female models to the Spanish party island of Ibiza. Another firm’s accounts were managed by an individual who appeared to be a dentist living in Belgium.
A full legal filing from the National Crime Agency released by the London court on July 7 gives the most detailed glimpse yet of how dirty money was allegedly funneled through the U.K. using a scheme known as the Azerbaijani Laundromat, which enabled the flow of about $3 billion in cash. It also laid out the role of Danske Bank A/S’s Estonia branch and that of Latvia’s ABLV Bank AS in transferring money to the U.K. The documents were released after the Javadov family agreed to hand over 4 million pounds to end an investigation by the NCA.
The shell companies “played no other role than to disguise and hide origins of money coming to them,” NCA lawyer Jonathan Hall told the court.
At the hearing, Hall said the NCA initially sought to seize 6.4 million pounds, but chose to settle with Suleyman Javadov and his wife Izzat Khanim Javadova, a cousin of Azerbaijan’s president, on the eve of the proceedings. The Javadovs made no admission of wrongdoing and their lawyers said in a statement that the couple “have legitimate business dealings and trusted that their money transfers were dealt with by the banks in accordance with the law.”
The couple accepted that the money was transferred through “pass-through” accounts which were part of what prosecutors have described as a laundromat, but denied knowing the money itself was laundered, said James Lewis, their lawyer.
In opting to settle the case, the NCA unwittingly highlighted some of the issues policing the U.K.’s “dirty money problem,” said Susan Hawley, who runs British transparency group Spotlight on Corruption. Even when pursuing civil rather than criminal procedures, with the resulting lower burden of proof, it suggest “that law enforcement bodies are struggling to bring home cases.”
The documents from the crime agency, which were prepared late last year before the court hearing, were released following an application by London’s Evening Standard newspaper, which unmasked the couple following a lengthy court battle.
They show how the funds ended up in U.K. bank accounts, including at Banco Santander SA and private bank Coutts & Co., via hundreds of transactions from Danske Bank’s Estonia branch or ABLV Bank, once Latvia’s third-largest bank before it was shut down over money laundering concerns.
By Jonathan Browning, Bloomberg, 14 July 2021
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