Naming of Tory donor linked to money laundering case ‘a major victory for open justice’

 (Dave Benett)
(Dave Benett)

The naming of Tory donor and business tycoon Javad Marandi in a major money laundering case brought by the National Crime Agency is a vital victory for open justice in the public interest, campaigners and lawyers have said after judges criticised the businessman’s failure to provide evidence to support his case for anonymity.

Anti-corruption organisations said the disclosure that Mr Marandi, a multi-millionaire OBE who owns the Conran Shop and other businesses here and abroad, was a “person of importance” in a case brought by law enforcers against three members of an Azeri oligarch’s family raised “serious questions about the relationship between money and power” in Britain.

They said the decision by judges in the High Court and Court of Appeal to uphold an earlier judgment in favour of naming Mr Marandi – who has vehemently denied any wrongdoing – would also allow the public here and abroad to learn more about the Azerbaijan laundromat money laundering scheme to which the court found he was connected and where the wealth chanelled through it had gone.

Lawyers added that the judicial rulings over Mr Marandi set an important precedent that would counter increasing attempts by the rich to use privacy claims to keep their names secret during potentially damaging court proceedings.

The comments follow court findings that Mr Marandi, who had been protected by an anonymity order until a judge accepted applications by the Evening Standard and the BBC to lift it, received $49 million from one of the companies involved in the money laundering scheme and that one of the companies he owned received a further $107 million. Mr Marandi was not a party to the proceedings brought by the NCA against the Azeri family.

The court found that he was also the conduit for dirty money forfeited by an oligarch’s son as the proceeds of crime and believed to be the owner of another company at the heart of the money laundering scheme.

Mr Marandi’s lawyers have insisted that all his wealth is legitimate. They say that he has not been investigated or questioned by any authorities and described the ruling as “unsafe”.

Daniel Bruce, the chief executive of the anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International UK, said the removal of anonymity “for this significant case represents a landmark judgement in the fight for open justice.

He added: “Transparency in court proceedings is vital both to ensuring the UK’s efforts to tackle economic crime can be scrutinised in full as well as revealing information of significant public interest about political donors.

“Understanding complex money laundering schemes such as these is essential to ensuring they cannot happen again in the future."

Mr Bruce’s colleague, Duncan Hames, a former Lib Dem MP, added: “This case raises serious questions about the relationship between money and power in our democracy.”

Susan Coughtrie, the director of the Foreign Policy Centre think tank, said: “This is a very important victory for media reporting in the public interest. Given the role that the UK, and London in particular, plays as a hub for money laundering, the media’s role as a public watchdog in this area is vital.  When open justice is undermined there is a much wider impact, not only for redress here in the UK, but also for those in the countries where such illicit financial flows originate.“

Dr Susan Hawley, the executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, said the disclosure that Mr Marandi, who has given £663,800 to the Conservative Party, had been found by the court to be either the owner or linked to several of the companies involved in the Azerbaijan laundromat case should be a “wake up call to all political parties to develop proper ‘know your donor’ policies.”

“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,” she said. “It leaves our democracy hugely vulnerable to dubious influences and dirty money.”

Andrew Smith, a partner at the law firm Corker Binning, said the naming of Mr Marandi was “a major victory for open justice and investigative journalism, with significant implications for individuals and companies accused of wrongdoing in court proceedings but not formally under suspicion in a criminal investigation.”

He said it also “illustrates vividly the limits of the Supreme Court’s decision in ZXC v Bloomberg”, a controversial judgment which Mr Marandi sought to use to keep his connection to the money laundering case secret.

Javad Marandi (Harry Mitchell)
Javad Marandi (Harry Mitchell)

The judgment has been used in previous cases to win anonymity for those subject to criminal investigation, which Mr Marandi was not, before court proceedings begin, but Mr Smith said the ruling in Mr Marandi’s case indicated that when future asset seizing cases reached “ public legal proceedings … anyone and everyone implicated in the alleged conduct can be named in open court and the media entitled to report their names.”

Mark Stephens, a media lawyer at the Howard Kennedy law firm, added that the rulings in favour of naming Mr Marandi were “a good reminder to all judges that the open justice principle is one of the basic tenets on which our justice system is founded” and should stop anonymity orders from “being dished out too lavishly”.

Mr Marandi’s lawyers argued that because he was not a party to the proceedings brought by the NCA, which led to the forfeiture of £5.6 million of criminal proceeds from the bank accounts of three members of an Azeri oligarch’s family – Parvana Feyziyeva, Orkhan Javanshir and Elman Javanshir – that he was unable to give evidence during the court proceedings, including a separate hearing over lifting his anonymity.

But his lawyers’ assertions have been rejected by three senior judges in the Court of Appeal and the High Court.

Lady Justice Andrews,  refusing permission for an appeal at the Court of Appeal, said that although he  “may not have been a party to or a witness in the forfeiture proceedings .. that did not mean that he had no fair opportunity to address the allegations made against him. He could have refuted them in detail when he put in his evidence in support of his claim for anonymity. Instead, he chose to rest on a bare denial of wrongdoing.”

She added that although Mr Marandi’s lawyers had insisted that he was only a “peripheral figure” in the money laundering case, his “connection with the companies used to launder the money placed him at the heart of it”.

Her judgment followed an earlier High Court judgment in which Mr Justice Mostyn said that during the hearing on removing anonymity Mr Marandi had relied on a letter from his solicitor denying wrongdoing but “did not offer to be interviewed by, or to give a witness statement to, the NCA in order to give chapter and verse about the entities under scrutiny and to clear up any unwarranted suspicions about his role in them.”

Mr Justice Mostyn added: “In circumstances where the claimant never advanced an account of why the allegations against him (as they were..) or findings (as they became..) were wide of the mark, and where the evidence of the specific concrete harm he might suffer was of very little weight, his resistance to the discharge application [to remove anonymity] was in my judgment always doomed to failure.”

His High Court colleague, Lord Justice Warby, said in the same judgment that Mr Marandi “had the opportunity to attend the trial of the forfeiture proceedings or have someone do so on his behalf. We do not know if he did so, or if he made any attempts to provide relevant evidence. We have not been told that he did.

“He also had a full and fair opportunity to press for the continuation of anonymity after judgment was delivered. There was a three-month window of opportunity in which to adduce evidence in support of his argument at that stage.”