Photo: Ben Pruchnie on The Guardian

A UK tribunal has discovered that two of Ilham Aliyev’s daughters tried to purchase a £60 million property in London in a transaction that carried “a significant risk of money laundering”.

Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva agreed in 2015 to buy two Knighstbridge apartments.

Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva are well known in Malta as they held an account at Pilatus Bank through a Dubai company called Sahra FZCO. The existence of this account was first reported by Daphne Caruana Galizia whose sources included Maria Efimova, a whistleblower who worked at Pilatus Bank. This report was denied and included in what prime minister Joseph Muscat claimed was the biggest lie in Maltese political history.

The owner of Pilatus Bank, Ali Sadr, instituted defamation proceedings against Daphne Caruana Galizia in Arizona. The proceedings were withdrawn within hours of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.

But the existence of the account was subsequently confirmed by an investigation by the Daphne Project. That investigation found that Azerbaijan’s ruling families allegedly benefit from dozens of anonymously owned companies that have been used to invest in property, hotels and businesses in Europe. Pilatus Bank was used for secret investments in several countries, including the UK.

This was also confirmed in leaked Dubai residency records.

Although these facts alone do not prove illegal activity, the UK regulator is clamping down on money laundering risks given that the source of the wealth of the Ilham Aliyev family is not believed to be altogether legitimate.

A UK tribunal has disciplined a solicitor working for London firm Child & Child for handling the transaction for the Aliyevas without carrying out proper money-laundering checks and breaching his professional code.

The tribunal fined him £45,000 and £40,000 in costs. He is the first UK professional to be punished following the publication of the Panama Papers that leaked documents from Mossack Fonseca.

More details about that case in this The Guardian report.

The Aliyevas were attempting this purchase in the UK at the same time as their account in Pilatus Bank was in operation.

In April 2017 Daphne Caruana Galizia reported that in March 2016 the Aliyevas’ Sahra FZCO paid over US$ 1 million to Egrant, a company incorporated in Panama in 2013 by Mossack Fonseca acting on the instructions of Nexia BT. 

Daphne Caruana Galizia reported in 2017 that the same sources that correctly informed on the existence of accounts held by the Aliyevs also reported due diligence documents connected to the Egrant payment showed that Egrant was owned by Joseph Muscat’s wife, Michelle Muscat.

The alleged transaction was made from Al Sahra’s account in Pilatus Bank to an account which Egrant allegedly held with a bank in Dubai.

A subsequent inquiry into Egrant obtained no response from the UAE authorities to questions about these transactions.