LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has asked a grandson of the former president of Kazakhstan to explain where he got the money from to buy a multi-million pound mansion in one of north London’s most expensive roads.
The house, in The Bishops Avenue, Hampstead, along with two other properties, is worth 80 million pounds ($104 million), the NCA says, and has an underground swimming pool and a cinema.
It is occupied by Nurali Aliyev, his wife Aida, and their children. Aliyev, 35, is the grandson of former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The NCA has barred any attempt to sell the properties and argues that the wealth used to buy them was linked to Rakhat Aliyev - Nurali Aliyev’s father and the former president’s son-in-law - who was found hanged in an Austrian jail in 2015 after being charged with the murder of two bankers in 2007.
This is only the second time so-called Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) have been used in Britain since being introduced in 2018.
The NCA can use them to require owners to disclose how they managed to acquire assets. If they do not agree with the explanation, they can ask the courts to confiscate them.
In the High Court on Tuesday two offshore companies that own the properties applied to have the orders squashed.
Clare Montgomery, acting on the companies’ behalf, said the NCA’s grounds for the wealth order was “tissue paper thin”.
“The case presented ... was tissue-paper thin on the claim that there was a link to Rakhat Aliyev,” she said.
Montgomery said the funding for the properties came from Nurali Aliyev’s mother, Dariga Nazarbayeva, who she said was economically independent.
In a statement issued later, the mother denied any wrongdoing.
“She has furnished the NCA with all the information it needed to conclude she has not been involved in any wrongdoing and there was no merit to their case,” her spokesperson said.
“Dr Nazarbayeva wishes to make it clear she has not been party to any wrongdoing and looks forward to the matter being concluded swiftly.”
Lawyers for Nurali Aliyev also issued a statement later saying he had tried to help the NCA’s inquiries.
“Nurali Aliyev has sought to assist the NCA by providing them with relevant information in relation to this case,” it said. “He is now challenging the NCA’s approach and will robustly defend the proceedings.”
Aliyev was appointed head of Kazakhstan’s top music channel in 2006 at the age of 21 and became a banker a year later, earning $26,000 a month for sitting on the board of the country’s seventh-largest bank, along with his mother.
The ex-president of oil-rich Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been widely criticized by opponents for giving his family members powerful posts in government, industry, construction and banking.
More than 5 billion pounds worth of property in the UK has been bought with suspicious wealth, which could come from corruption, according to Transparency International UK.
Britain’s first UWOs were issued against a Knightsbridge house and a golf course belonging to Jahangir Hajiyeva, jailed in Azerbaijan for embezzlement from the state bank, and his wife, Zamira, who spent 16.3 million pounds in the London department store Harrods.
Reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft; editing by Stephen Addison