UK Investigators: Tory Donor Received $230 Million From Companies That Received Suspicious Funds

Published: 16 May 2023

Javad MarandiJavad Marandi. (Photo: Harry Mitchell, Wikimedia, License)

By Kelly Bloss and Ben Cowdock

Prominent U.K. businessman, philanthropist, and Conservative Party donor Javad Marandi received US$230 million from offshore companies that received suspicious funds, according to documents filed by the National Crime Agency in a forfeiture case against a business partner.

The money came from two offshore companies between 2005 and 2016. For a portion of that period, the two companies were funded by the “Azerbaijani Laundromat,” a vast money laundering system revealed by OCCRP in 2017. Marandi, 55, has multiple business ties in Azerbaijan.

For over a year, he has successfully argued that revealing his identity in the case would damage his reputation, and has been identified in those court records only as “MNL.”

On Tuesday, after over a year of hearings and appeals, reporting restrictions preventing the media from naming him were lifted.

The case to make Marandi’s name public was brought by the BBC and the Evening Standard newspaper. His efforts to avoid disclosure have now been rejected by the Westminster Magistrates Court, the High Court, and several courts of appeal. The BBC has described the latest ruling against him as a “milestone for freedom of the press.”

Marandi has not been charged with any crimes.

In response to requests for comment, the law firm representing him said that he “vehemently denies any wrongdoing” and is “deeply disappointed at the court's decision to lift reporting restrictions, knowing the reputational damage that is likely to follow.”

“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,” they added.

After fleeing to London from revolutionary Iran as a child, Marandi grew up to become a successful entrepreneur. He has invested in a group of private members’ clubs called Soho House and in high-end fashion and design brands like Emilia Wickstead, Anya Hindmarch, and the Conran Shop.

In Azerbaijan, he owns over 20 McDonald’s restaurants and a cigarette business that distributes several international brands. According to his U.K. law firm, the cigarette business represents his main source of income.

He was also a managing partner in Pasha Construction, a vast real estate developer in Azerbaijan that belongs to the ruling Aliyev family.

But according to the National Crime Agency (NCA), Marandi and his companies received over $230 million from offshore companies that themselves received money from the Azerbaijani Laundromat and other sources. NCA investigators alleged that $77 million of this total was sent from a company that had been used to “channel unlawfully derived funds to various beneficiaries,” including Marandi.

The Azerbaijani Laundromat was a system of interconnected offshore companies that transmitted money using fraudulent transactions to disguise where it came from. For that reason, it is usually impossible to determine the origin of the billions of dollars that flowed through it. But after obtaining banking records from Estonia, journalists were able to piece together where some of the funds ended up. Among the beneficiaries were prominent members of Azerbaijan’s ruling elite, including members and associates of the Aliyev family.

The NCA’s investigation focused not on Marandi, but on influential Azerbaijani politician Javanshir Feyziyev and his family. The agency succeeded in getting a judge to approve the seizure of millions of pounds from members of Feyziyev’s family because the money had been sent through the Laundromat.

But while looking into Feyziyev, the agency also came across Marandi.When asked during a hearing whether he, too, was being investigated, an officer representing the NCA responded he could “neither deny nor confirm.”

According to the NCA, Marandi, Feyziyev, and Mirjalal Pashayeev, a cousin of President Aliyev’s wife, co-owned a major Azerbaijani pharmaceutical company that received millions from the Laundromat.

That company, Avromed, was previously known only as Feyziyev’s. He was one of its founders, but said he gave up his stake after being elected to Azerbaijan’s parliament in 2015. Avromed does not disclose its shareholders, and the fact that Marandi and Pashayev were among them was not previously known.

In addition to his business success, Marandi has also made himself visible in other ways in the United Kingdom, co-founding a charitable foundation to support disadvantaged children and penning an op-ed in The Telegraph to call for higher wages.

He donated more than 750,000 British pounds to the Conservative Party between May 2014 and November 2020. This encompasses the period during which he received the funds the NCA describes as suspicious.

In reference to NCA’s seizure of millions of pounds from members of the Feyziyev family, a spokesperson for the family said that they are “pleased to have succeeded in the majority of the claim and to have had the Court confirm that neither ‘Javanshir Feyziyev or any of the Respondents have been engaged in corruption.’”

Correction, May 30: U.K. investigators considered the companies that sent money to Javad Marandi to have received suspicious money; they did not claim that the money he himself received was suspicious. In addition, not all of the money he received came from the Azerbaijani Laundromat, which was active for a portion of the period in question.