Millionaire Tory donor and business tycoon Javad Marandi linked to major money laundering operation
A multi-millionaire Tory donor who owns London’s famous Conran Shop and a stake in the Anya Hindmarch handbag retailer was revealed today as a key figure linked to a major money laundering operation targeted by the National Crime Agency.
A court ruling said that bank records showed that Javad Marandi, who has been on a Conservative advisory board of ultra-wealthy supporters, either owned or was connected to companies involved in a “criminal enterprise” moving vast sums of illicit funds around the world and into this country.
The judgment states that he received $49 million directly from the bank account of one of the companies used “to launder the proceeds of crime” as part of the scheme - known as the "Azerbaijan laundromat" - and that one of the companies owned by Mr Marandi received a further $107 million from the same account.
It also shows that Mr Marandi was a conduit for dirty money chanelled to an oligarch’s son in London.
Mr Marandi, who is one of London’s most successful tycoons and has a home on Belgravia’s Eaton Square, has strongly denied any wrongdoing and had managed to keep his connection to the money laundering case secret through an anonymity order imposed by a court in 2021.
He had claimed that revealing his name would inflict “catastrophic” damage on him and his businesses, which in this country also include the Emilia Wickstead fashion brand and the Wed2B wedding outfit retailer.
Mr Marandi, 55, is also the landlord of the celebrity favoured Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire and the long-term holder of the McDonalds fast-food franchise in Azerbaijan. His other overseas businesses include a five-star hotel in Brussels. He also has a charitable foundation that supports The Royal Foundation charity set up by the Prince and Princess of Wales and other organisations ranging from St Paul’s School to Centrepoint.
He was awarded an OBE in 2020 for services to business and philanthropy and as well as being the former owner of a multi-million pound yacht has been described in one media profile as having “a taste for vintage wines, private jets and beautiful properties.”
His link to the money laundering case had been kept from the public because of the anonymity order.
But the order, which was contested by the Evening Standard when it was first imposed, was removed today after the Court of Appeal joined the High Court in backing a judge’s earlier ruling in favour of applications by this newspaper and the BBC for his identity to be revealed.
In that ruling, District Judge John Zani said he was removing anonymity on the grounds that Mr Marandi was “a person of importance” in court proceedings brought by the National Crime Agency which led to the forfeiture of £5.6 million from the London bank accounts of three members of the family of Azeri oligarch Javanshir Feyziyev.
The court found then that the trio – Mr Feyziyev’s wife Parvana Feyziyeva, their son Orkhan, and nephew Elman Javanshir – had all benefited from funds funnelled to them by Mr Feyziyev and others via a “criminal enterprise” known as the “Azerbaijan laundromat” in which a complex network of offshore and UK companies were used to shift huge sums around the world.
Judge Zani said he rejected Mr Marandi’s claim that he was a “peripheral figure” in the case against the Feyziyev family.
Instead, he said Mr Marandi had “featured directly (and indirectly) on a number of occasions in the detailed opening note prepared by .. the NCA” setting out the alleged money laundering and in evidence provided by the law enforcement agency’s lead investigator.
The judge said he had also concluded that there had been a “significant money laundering scheme in existence in Azerbaijan, Estonia and Latvia” involving the companies “Baktelekom, Hilux, Polux, Brightmax as well as from other entities”.
He said “substantial funds from this criminal enterprise” had been paid into the Latvian bank account of a business called Avromed Company (Seychelles) which banking records showed was owned by Mr Marandi.
The court found that Mr Marandi had in turn received almost $49 million from this bank account in “account replenishment”, and that a company he owned had received $107 million, while Mr Feyziyev and members of his family had also received multi-million dollar sums.
The judge added that there was “overwhelming evidence that the `invoices` and `contracts` purporting to support legitimate (and very substantial) business transactions between Baktelekom, Hilux and Polux were entirely fictitious” and being used “to mask the underlying money laundering activities of those orchestrating the accounts.”
Judge Zani also cited his forfeiture judgment from against the Feyziyev family showing that a $500,000 deposit by Mr Marandi was one of the sources of the £1 million seized from the account of Orkhan Javanshir by the National Crime Agency on the grounds that it was illicit money.
The judge added that Mr Marandi had failed to provide any “clear and cogent” evidence to demonstrate the “enormous and irremediable damage” to him and his businesses that his barrister, the former Bar Council chairman Desmond Browne QC, had told the court he would suffer.
Judge Zani said this considerably weakened any argument for anonymity and cited a Divisional Court judgment in an earlier court victory by the Standard in the case of the millionaire DJ Izzat Javadova and her husband Suleyman Javadov stating that it is “wholly insufficient simply to aver” damage without providing details.
He added: “In all the circumstances I am no longer satisfied that it is necessary or proportionate for the [anonymity] order .. to remain in place. Accordingly, the said anonymity order … is hereby revoked.”
Lawyers for Mr Marandi managed to maintain the bar on revealing his name, however, by seeking a judicial review on the grounds that Judge Zani had erred in law by lifting anonymity.
They used a controversial Supreme Court ruling, ZXC v Bloomberg, and a European Court of Human Rights judgment in a case called del Campo to support their case that Mr Marandi’s privacy rights should outweigh those of the media to tell the public about his connection to the money laundering case.
The application was opposed by the Evening Standard and the BBC and ended in defeat after two senior judges, Lord Justice Warby and Mr Justice Mostyn, rejected Mr Marandi’s bid to overturn the decision to remove his anonymity.
Their judgment states that the original anonymity order “should never have been granted” and had been achieved through a “strategic decision” by Mr Marandi and his lawyers to give the media effectively no notice of the application in a process “that did not meet the requirements of natural justice”.
The judgment adds that the judge’s subsequent decision to remove anonymity “cannot be impugned” and that Mr Marandi’s attempt to keep his name secret had “always been doomed to failure” in circumstances where he had “never advanced an account of why the allegations.. or findings .. against him were wide of the mark” or evidence of the “specific concrete harm” that he would suffer.
Lord Justice Warby added that although Mr Marandi’s barrister in the judicial review, Lord Pannick KC, had treated the forfeiture judgment as if it “contained a finding that his client is guilty of an offence” this was “ certainly not the formal position” and “nor is it the only possible interpretation of the judgment”.
The judgment added that claims in a statement by Mr Marandi’s solicitor Julian Pike, from Farrer & Co, that the businessman would suffer the loss of banking facilities if his name was made public amounted to "inadmissible lay opinion" that was "not worth the paper it was written on".
In a final effort to keep his name secret, Mr Marandi sought permission to challenge the High Court judgment at the Court of Appeal.
But his application has now been rejected by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal, meaning that the anonymity order has finally been removed allowing Mr Marandi’s identity to be revealed.
The court decision follows a ten day hearing in 2021 in which Judge Zani approved the original anonymity order before ruling against the Feyziyev family – which has a multi-million pound mansion on Cumberland Terrace overlooking Regent’s Park – and ordering the £5.6 million forfeiture from their respective accounts.
The court heard then that Mr Marandi ,who was referred to as MNL, was the owner of another company, Vynehill Enterprises Ltd, involved in receiving suspect funds and also believed to be the owner of Brightmax, another of the entities named as part of the money laundering scheme.
Mr Marandi, who was born in Iran, came to London as a child and has lived here ever since and is a British citizen
He has extensive property and business interests internationally, including in Azerbaijan, and has made 11 donations to the Conservative Party dating from David Cameron’s premiership onwards totalling £663,800 between May 2014 and November 2020. The largest donations were two payments of £250,000 made in 2019 and 2020.
He has been named previously by The Sunday Times newspaper as a member of an elite “advisory board” of ultra wealthy Tory donors given access to ministers, although a spokesman said at the time that he had only attended on one occasion.
As well as supporting The Royal Foundation of the Prince and Princess of Wales , Mr Marandi’s philanthropic activities include being the founder and funder of The Watercolour World. It is a charity creating an online database of watercolour paintings from before 1900 and before the death of Queen Elizabeth II listed the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall as its patrons.
Mr Marandi was not a party to the forfeiture case against the Feyziyevs and his lawyers complained that he had been unable to challenge the money laundering findings made in relation to the case.
He declined to provide any testimony to the anonymity hearing but instead relied on a witness statement submitted to the court on his behalf by his solicitor in which he denied any wrongdoing.
It states that the “source of his income is very clear and easily demonstrated” and that there is “no legitimate or lawful basis to accuse Mr Marandi of having established his wealth by unlawful means” or “for alleging that he is guilty of or involved in unlawful money laundering of funds directly derived from his lawful business interests.
“The fact that he is the beneficiary of substantial dividend payments, for example, is not prima facie evidence of wrongdoing, criminal or otherwise, as opposed to the income being lawfully earned from very extensive business interests,” the statement adds.
Another document submitted to the court on Mr Marandi’s behalf seeks to explain the methods used to transfer his money.
It says that because of currency restrictions imposed in Azerbaijan “intermediary organisations, such as exchange houses, both inside the country and in neighbouring jurisdictions such as Latvia and Estonia, were used to transfer money out of the country” and that this necessity only ceased in 2017 when these rules were relaxed.
It also insists that Mr Marandi “rejects any suggestion that his use of exchange houses to transfer legitimate and lawfully acquired funds from his business activities in Azerbaijan out of the country was in any way illegal or gives rise to legitimate suspicion.
Mr Marandi has declined to be be interviewed by this newspaper, but a statement issued by his solicitors Farrer & Co said that he "vehemently denies any wrongdoing" and believed the decision to name him was “unjust”.
The statement added: "At no point has Mr Marandi been investigated or questioned by the authorities. And no case has ever been brought against him or his businesses in relation to these or any other matters, anywhere in the world.
"Mr Marandi is deeply disappointed at the Court’s decision to lift reporting restrictions, knowing the reputational damage that is likely to follow."
His solicitors added that the businessman had commissioned three separate investigations into his affairs and that each had shown no impropriety and that his vast wealth had been legitimately earned.