Top UK businessman and political donor facing worldwide money laundering investigation
A top UK businessman and political donor is being investigated for money laundering in Britain, Azerbaijan, the Seychelles, and the British Virgin Islands.
Javad Marandi, who has an OBE for business and philanthropy, can now be identified after losing a 19-month court struggle to remain nameless with the BBC.
Marandi vehemently denies any misconduct and is not facing criminal charges.
The verdict against him represents a watershed moment for press freedom in the face of expanding privacy rules in the courts.
A spokesman for the businessman told the BBC: “Mr Marandi is deeply disappointed at the court’s decision to lift reporting restrictions, knowing the reputational damage that is likely to follow.”
A National Crime Agency (NCA) inquiry discovered that some of Mr Marandi's overseas holdings were central to an extensive money-laundering conspiracy involving one of Azerbaijan's wealthiest oligarchs.
A judge ordered in January 2022 that the NCA could seize £5.6 million [$7 million] from the London-based family of Javanshir Feyziyev, a member of Azerbaijan's parliament.
Their British bank accounts got funds transferred from Azerbaijan in what the court described as a "significant money-laundering scheme."
The family contested the accusation, and Mr Marandi was given anonymity in court at the start of the hearing in October 2021.
Mr Marandi can now be identified, according to British High Court justices, since he was a "person of importance" in the NCA's case.
Marandi, 55, was born in Iran and raised in London, where he currently resides.
Reports of his significant donations revealed his ties to the Conservative Party. According to Electoral Commission data, he gave £756,300 between 2014 and 2020.
The Sunday Times reported in February 2022 that he was a member of a group of significant donors who had access to senior party members, including then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In court, Mr Marandi was characterised as a "highly successful international businessman" with a diverse range of commercial interests in the UK and internationally.
According to the BBC, he owns the legendary design brand The Conran Shop, a shareholding in the luxury handbag company Anya Hindmarch Ltd, and an exclusive private members' club and hotel in Oxfordshire.
He and his wife run the Marandi Foundation, which supports the charity of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
Mr Marandi joined the homelessness organisation Centrepoint as a special adviser in 2021, advising it on how to increase its work with disadvantaged young people.
The NCA's inquiry, which focused on previous events, did not include any of Mr Marandi's UK businesses or these groups.
The 'Azerbaijani Laundromat' is a laundromat in Azerbaijan.
The investigation began in 2017, after investigative journalists exposed a massive money-laundering enterprise known as the "Azerbaijani Laundromat."
The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) exposed how members of Azerbaijan's elite looted $2.9 billion (£2.3 billion) in dirty money - money stolen from the country's people and economy. It was mostly for their own advantage, but it was also intended to pay European leaders.
According to Paul Radu, co-founder of the OCCRP, the laundrette plan was one of the most important examples of post-Soviet looting.
“The Azerbaijani Laundromat brought a lot of damage on many levels to Azerbaijan itself, to the European Union, to the US, and other parts of the world,” he said.
“Small businesses lost a lot of money – they had deposits with a bank that was at the centre of the Laundromat.”
These disclosures prompted the NCA to examine the Feyziyev family's funds in the UK, resulting in an application to take some of their UK cash in 2021, as well as the disclosure in court of the link to Mr Marandi.
According to the Money route NCA documents presented at Westminster Magistrates' Court, the suspect money that made its way to the Feyziyev family accounts in London started in bank accounts to a company that had no workers and no traceable records of its activity.
Baktelekom, based in Baku, Azerbaijan's capital, appeared to be a state-owned company with a nearly identical name.
District Judge John Zani determined that "substantial funds from this criminal enterprise" were then transferred to two Baltic bank accounts linked to Glasgow-registered shell corporations.
According to the NCA, some of the money was then transferred to accounts associated to Javanshir Feyziyev and Javad Marandi.
Avromed, a group of companies, was "central" to the movement of this money.
Mr Marandi was the beneficiary of one of them, which was established in the Seychelles in 2005.
According to court documents, the Avromed Seychelles company got substantial sums.