Zamora Hajiyeva, an Azerbaijani banker’s wife, spent €16 million at Harrods. She used 54 credit cards. She spent €4.9 million on Boucheron and Cartier jewellery and €400,000 on clothes. She lived in a €15 million Knightsbridge residence and owned a Berkshire golf course.
Despite her enormous wealth, Hajiyeva had no income other than interest from her British bank account. The UK National crime agency slapped her with an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO), a court order issued to force disclosure of sources of unexplained wealth, failing which assets are confiscated. In February 2020, Hajiyeva lost her appeal against the bid to seize her valuable London property.
The UK’s crime agency also obtained UWOs on assets worth millions belonging to Rahkat Aliyev, former Kazakhstan’s security service deputy, who spent time exiled in Malta.
UWOs enable law enforcement to recover assets where the respondent’s known income is insufficient to acquire the asset. Possessions worth more than one could possibly afford are invariably acquired through crime.
Unexplained wealth is routinely flaunted in Malta without eliciting the slightest reaction from the pseudo-functioning institutions.
Alfred Degiorgio, accused of Caruana Galizia’s murder, gambled €570,000, although his registered job was as a bar security guard – €457,000 of those were spent at Yorgen Fenech’s Portomaso casino. When Fenech was asked how an unemployed person could gamble so much, he replied: “The Tumas Group conducts its operations in full compliance with all the obligations at law”.
Degiorgio also owned a Mercedes Benz, a Kia and BMW, all registered in his name. He owned a boat, named Maya, from which he allegedly sent the fateful SMS that blew up Caruana Galizia. He never filed a tax return.
His brother George, also accused of murder, was unemployed and not registered for tax purposes. He received no pensions. His BOV account was inactive since 2005. Yet, he made eight foreign financial transactions. George had an Audi A4 registered in his name and also previously owned a Mistubishi and a BMW saloon. He also owned a boat, named Ducu. He last worked in 1983 as a construction worker.
His partner, also unemployed, made 57 foreign transactions. She made regular cash deposits in her Lombard Bank account and transferred money abroad through Western Union. She owned a €90,000 Corvette, an Audi Q7, a Mercedes Benz and paid three school fees in cash.
The convicted murderer Vince Muscat will pay some €42,000 in court fees, apart from thousands more to his lawyer. Having no legitimate income for years, there is little doubt where the money buying his undeserved freedom is coming from.
The police raid on the notorious Maksar brothers yielded treasure. Two vehicles seized contained €50,000 cash, 350g of heroin and sachets of cocaine. Another €20,000 was seized from their residences. A cash-counting machine, 25 mobile phones, a collection of firearms and another 10 cars were also discovered.
Adrian Agius, one of the brothers, was director of a company linked to the bankrupt More supermarkets. He held directorship in Interaa Holdings through his Imola Holdings Ltd, which owned 20% of Interaa.
The Agius brothers had been in business with Terence Gialanze through Globe International Enterprises Ltd since 2009 when Gialanze was only 21. He inexplicably owned several luxury cars, and a yacht kept at Portomaso. In November 2012, aged 24, Gialanze disappeared, presumed dead, days after transferring his 2,000 shares in Globe international Ltd to Adrian Agius.
Maksar’s lawyer was Robert Abela. Now Prime minister, he refuses to publish his own tax returns for the years before his entry into politics. Despite being only 43, he owns three properties, in Marsascala, Xewkija and Zejtun. He declared €500,000 in savings in his BOV account, HSBC shares, 2,100 Hili properties bonds and 5,000 Malta government stocks. He has no mortgages, no loans and no liabilities. And owns a luxury yacht.
James Piscopo, the former Labour CEO, worked as a purchasing clerk at Air Malta until 2009. In 2013, Muscat appointed him Transport Malta chief. By 2015, Piscopo moved into a luxury property in Iklin, complete with a swimming pool, stores, cellars and archives. Through his Undecim Five Investments Ltd, he acquired a 14% stake in BBF Ltd, which bought a Marsascala hotel and converted it into a residence for the elderly worth millions. He also owned shares in Floors of Stone Co Ltd. Allegations about his €600,000 hidden in a Jersey private bank are still being investigated.
Transparency International has long recommended the adoption of UWOs to combat financial crime. A new Proceeds of Crime Law provided the perfect opportunity for the Labour government to heed the international organisation’s advice. The PN insisted that UWOs are essential in the fight against criminals.
But Edward Zammit Lewis robustly obstructed. The Minister of Justice and Good Governance has made it his mission to defend and protect wrongdoers. He doggedly defended Joseph Muscat for awarding Konrad Mizzi an obscene consultancy contract and for accepting lavish gifts from a suspected money launderer and assassination mastermind at the Parliamentary Ethics Committee.
Now Zammit Lewis fiercely resists introducing UWOs, against the recommendations of Transparency International. His excuse is that “we do not have a good history on confiscation of assets”. His self-serving perverse logic is that since we haven’t implemented existing laws, we might as well not introduce more.
Why bother providing law enforcement with better tools for fighting crime when they haven’t used existing ones, Zammit Lewis argued. His defence of criminals comes as no surprise. He brazenly denied any relationship with Yorgen Fenech despite having shared 700 messages and friendly dinners with him, even after Fenech’s 17-Black ownership was exposed.
Zammit Lewis’ Crime Law only allows confiscation of assets from absconders and the dead. Those living among us can continue to luxuriate, safe in the knowledge that their proceeds of crime will pay their court fees, their lawyers, their freedom and their comfort. Zammit Lewis won’t let anybody wrench their illicit assets away – the reasons couldn’t be more obvious.