Javad Marandi, an international businessman and major donor to the Conservative Party, can now be named as someone found to be “a person of importance” in a court case about the money laundering operation dubbed the “Azerbaijani Laundromat”. No findings of wrongdoing have been made against Mr Marandi. However, the proceedings and underlying facts – including Mr Marandi’s alleged involvement with key persons and companies at the heart of the Laundromat – raise a number of unanswered questions with significant public interest that require further investigation. The lifting of an anonymity order protecting Mr Marandi’s identity allows better public scrutiny of these questions:
- Whether the National Crime Agency has investigated Mr Marandi as “a person of importance” in transactions associated with the Laundromat, and whether any decision to do so or not has been influenced by these proceedings or by his public profile?
- What are the implications of this case for the kinds of checks that political parties should do on donations from, and for limiting access to politicians by, those who are considered “persons of importance” in law enforcement investigations?
- Whether the possibility that the Azerbaijani Laundromat may have been used for a foreign influence operation within the UK has been adequately investigated by the appropriate authorities?
Dr Susan Hawley, Executive Director of Spotlight on Corruption, said:
“The abject failure of political parties to do proper checks on who is donating money to them and the source of their funds is frankly scandalous. It leaves our democracy hugely vulnerable to dubious influences and dirty money. The huge risk of Russian money in donations should have been a moment for a real reckoning – as should reports of China’s attempted influence over our politicians – but this doesn’t seem to have happened. This case should be a serious wake up call to all political parties to develop proper ‘know your donor’ policies.”
Javad Marandi – an international businessman, property tycoon and philanthropist – although not a party or a witness was nevertheless described by the court as “a person of importance” in the dirty money case brought by the National Crime Agency (NCA) to seize funds held by relatives of the Azerbaijani politician Javanshir Feyziyev.
In particular, Mr Marandi was identified by the court as the beneficial owner of the Seychelles-incorporated Avromed Company, which allegedly received substantial funds through the Laundromat and paid out US$48 million to Mr Marandi himself and US$106 million to another company of his between 2005 and 2017. A portion of criminal proceeds ultimately forfeited by a member of the Feyziyev family in the civil recovery proceedings was found by the court to have come “via the medium” of Mr Marandi. The NCA case was based on an investigation published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in 2017.
While no findings of wrongdoing have been made against Mr Marandi and this case was a civil – not a criminal – case, brought against others, his alleged involvement with key persons and companies at the heart of the Laundromat raises a number of unanswered questions with significant public interest. In particular, this and other cases raise whether more robust checks on political donations are appropriate and whether much greater transparency is needed about donors’ access to and potential influence over senior figures in political parties, particularly those in government.
Mr Marandi donated £663,800 to the Conservative Party (and his wife a further £92,500) between 2014 and 2020, including £250,000 shortly before the snap general election in December 2019 which qualified him to join the Conservative Party’s “advisory board” of wealthy donors who reportedly receive privileged access to ministers and officials. The alleged links between a major political donor with access to the heart of government and a multi-billion pound money laundering operation call at least for further investigations, and if upheld, may highlight the risks posed by the significant loopholes in the regulation of UK election finance.
As the UK’s anti-money laundering framework has been progressively tightened over the last decade, the minimal checks that parties are required to undertake on donations are an increasingly glaring anomaly. To protect the integrity of our democratic system, UK political parties should be required to undertake thorough due diligence checks on donations by implementing “know your donor” policies. The Electoral Commission should be empowered and properly resourced to advise parties on implementing these “know your donor” policies, and to monitor whether they are effectively implemented, including with powers to fine parties that fail to do this.
For full details, see our background briefing here.
Prior to the removal of his anonymity Mr Marandi released a statement which denied any wrongdoing and pointed out at no time has he been investigated or questioned by any authorities, his businesses are fully audited and, in response to the NCA’s evidence he subjected himself to “three separate reports by two highly reputed law firms” which unequivocally contradicted the court findings in the Laundromat forfeiture case. The decision as regards him is “unsafe”, he said.
Notes to editors
- Spotlight on Corruption is a charity that shines a light on the UK’s role in corruption at home and abroad by scrutinising the UK’s anti-corruption laws and international anti-corruption commitments, while monitoring their implementation and enforcement.
- As part of our unique court monitoring programme, we track major court cases in the UK relating to corruption, foreign bribery, money laundering and sanctions. By regularly attending court hearings, applying for court documents, and undertaking detailed analysis of these cases, Spotlight on Corruption is well-positioned to provide expert commentary on the latest developments and develop a strong evidence base to inform our broader policy and advocacy work.