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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.

Top UK businessman and political donor facing worldwide money laundering investigation

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.


Other sources of funding poured money into the company. According to investigations, it paid out:


  • $34.8 million (£27.8 million) to Javanshir Feyziyez

  • $48.8 million (£39 million) to Javad Marandi

  • Mr Marandi received $106.9 million (£85.4 million) from Vynehill Enterprises, a British Virgin Islands business beneficially owned by him.


The judge concluded, in ruling on the NCA's application to seize cash from the Feyziyev family, "I am satisfied that there is overwhelming evidence that the invoices and contracts purporting to support legitimate (and very substantial) business transactions between Baktelekom, Hilux, and Polux were entirely fictitious."


They were created to allow "significant sums into and out of their accounts in order to mask the underlying money-laundering activities of those orchestrating the accounts."


The National Crime Agency told the court it would "neither confirm nor deny" whether an inquiry into Mr Marandi's finances was ongoing, although the well-known businessman has categorically denied any wrongdoing.


His lawyers informed the court that because to Azerbaijan's stringent currency controls, he had to use exchange houses in Latvia and Estonia to transfer legitimately owned earnings from Avromed and other enterprises between 2012 and 2017.


“The funds were lawfully earned, and lawfully transferred, and there is no question of money laundering,” they said.


Introducing Marandi

When the NCA's case against the Feyziyev family first went to court, Mr Marandi's lawyers argued that revealing his identity would violate his privacy and cause "profound and irremediable" damage to his reputation, not least because no law enforcement body had interviewed or approached him about the case.


After the court determined that the NCA could collect millions of dollars from the Feyziyev family's British bank accounts, the BBC and the London Evening Standard claimed that it was in the public interest to reveal that some of Mr Marandi's offshore holdings were involved in the case.


In May 2022, Judge Zani determined that Mr Marandi, also known as MNL, may be named under open justice principles since he was a "person of importance to the main proceedings."


Mr Marandi's subsequent legal challenges lasted more than a year.


His lawyers were successful in obtaining a costly High Court review of Judge Zani's decision. The London Evening Standard had dropped out of the contest by this point.


Two courts ruled last month that the media could name Mr Marandi.


They came to the conclusion that transparent justice was a core value and that anonymity should be permitted only under extraordinary situations.


Mr Justice Mostyn said: “My only surprise is that the anonymity order was granted in the first place. For reasons of procedural unfairness as well as a distinct lack of merit, it should never have been granted.”


A spokeswoman for Mr Marandi stated after the lawsuit was dismissed that he was neither the subject of the claim against the Feyziyev family nor a witness.


“It is therefore unjust to be named, without having had the fundamental right to rebut these false findings.”


The Court of Appeal stated in its judgement to allow the BBC to cover the story on Monday evening: "[Mr Marandi] may not have been a party to or a witness in the forfeiture proceedings, but that did not mean that he did not have a fair opportunity to address the allegations made against him."


“He could have refuted them in detail when he put in his evidence in support of his claim for anonymity. Instead, he chose to rest on a bare denial of wrongdoing.


“Moreover in this case, as the [High Court] held, the forfeiture judgment contained no finding that [the applicant] was guilty of an offence.”


A representative for the Conservative Party stated in a statement that the party only accepts donations from "permissible sources, namely individuals registered on the UK electoral roll or UK registered companies."


“Donations are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, openly published by them, and comply fully with the law.”


The Royal Foundation and Centrepoint have been contacted for comment by BBC News and other media outlets.

By fLEXI tEAM

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