The British Guardian newspaper exposed in its Dec. 21, 2018 issue the latest financial scandal involving the daughters of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva sought to purchase two luxury Knightsbridge apartments in London for $76 million using a secret offshore company. The price included $4 million to convert the properties into a single home. The apartments are located near the garden of Buckingham Palace, according to The Guardian’s reporter Luke Harding.
In a 2016 article, The Guardian reported that Aliyev’s daughters had set up in 2015 a secret offshore company in the British Virgin Islands to manage their multi-million dollar property portfolio in Britain.
The two daughters are shareholders in Exaltation Limited, incorporated in 2015 with the purpose of “holding UK property.” The offshore company was set up by the London law firm of Child & Child which claimed falsely that the Aliyev women “had no political connections.” This information was exposed when the Panama Papers, the secret database of the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca, were leaked to the international media.
Aliyev’s daughters, according to The Guardian, have “amassed vast personal business empires. They own luxury apartments in the UAE, as well as interests in telecoms and gold mining. It was already known that Leyla Aliyeva owned a $22 million mansion on Hampstead Lane in north London.” In addition, the Aliyev family has luxury apartments around the globe worth over $140 million and these are just the known properties, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. The Aliyevs also own an apartment valued up to $8 million overlooking the Speakers’ Corner of Hyde Park (London), nine waterfront mansions in Dubai valued at $44 million, a dacha near Moscow worth at least $37 million, and a $1.1 million villa in an exclusive neighborhood in the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary.
Under British rules, the Aliyev daughters are classified as “PEP’s”—politically exposed persons, making them subject to greater scrutiny and due diligence checks by banks. The Guardian reported that the law firm of Child & Child did not declare the women’s high-profile status to the British government. On the official form asking if they are PEP’s, the law firm checked the “no” box instead of “yes.”
Another British lawyer, Derrick French, “set up a second clandestine Panamanian trust called UF Universe Foundation, “which controlled a majority stake in Ata Holding, one of Azerbaijan’s biggest conglomerates,” according to The Guardian. Ata Holding, established in 2003, was owned by “Azerbaijan’s minister of taxes, Fazil Mammadov, with a secret controlling stake in the $600 million conglomerate. Ata Holding owned “two major banks, construction firms and Baku’s five-star Excelsior hotel, with Pres. Aliyev’s three children.”
In 2005, the control of UF Universe Foundation changed hands. Pres. Aliyev’s three children, Leyla, Arzu and their brother Heydar, who at the time was just seven, had a combined 50% interest in the trust. Their mother Mehriban was the “protector,” an anonymous role giving her control over the Foundation. The other “protector” was Mammadov with a 30 percent share. Ata’s chairman, Ahmet Erentok, received only 15%. In 2007, UF Universe Foundation was closed down, but Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva were listed as the majority owners of Ata, via another Panamanian firm, Hughson Management, Inc. Javad Marandi, a close associate of Pres. Aliyev, had introduced the Aliyeva sisters to the law firm Child & Child, the British tribunal was told. Attorney Khalid Sharif, senior partner of Child & Child, then set up on behalf of the two sisters, Exaltation Limited, a British Virgin Islands firm.
In the case of the attempt by Pres. Aliyev’s daughters to purchase the $76 million property in London, a British disciplinary tribunal fined Sharif $57,000 and $51,000 in costs for failing to carry out money-laundering checks and breaching his professional code.
After the contract was signed, the Aliyeva sisters began to pay the purchase price of the two London apartments in installments, transferring $13 million. However, “the deal ‘unraveled’ in 2016 after their ownership was exposed,” according to The Guardian.
Not surprisingly, The Guardian newspaper revealed that “leaked US diplomatic cables suggest President Aliyev is Azerbaijan’s richest person.”