June 23. 2024. 8:37

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How the family of the head of the security service and relative of the President of Azerbaijan acquired real estate in Britain worth $114 million, in Dubai - worth $46 million

Beylar Eyyubov (highlighted) accompanies Ilham Aliyev and Mehriban Aliyeva at the inauguration ceremony of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (2023)Few people can boast that they enjoy the trust of the authoritarian leader of Azerbaijan.

Among those elected is Beylar Eyyubov, who headed the presidential security service during the two decades of Ilham Aliyev’s rule . At every official event, the stocky, mustachioed Eyyubov can be seen standing next to the leader of the country and personally opening the limousine door for him.

Eyyubov, 73, has held this position longer than Aliyev has held the presidency. He also worked under Aliyev’s father, Heydar , who ruled Azerbaijan in the first decade of the country’s post-Soviet independence.

In Azerbaijan, which is known for its vast natural resources and dictatorship, and also consistently ranks among the most corrupt countries, access to wealth and power is often determined by proximity to the Aliyevs. It is therefore not surprising that Eyyubov, who is married to a relative of the president, is considered an influential person. Nevertheless, the head of the security service surrounded himself and his relatives with a veil of secrecy.

In a new investigation based on corporate and land records from multiple countries, OCCRP and our partners in Azerbaijan (Mikroskop Media) and Georgia (iFact) reveal for the first time the family’s assets. The Eyyubovs own real estate in the UK and Dubai, on which they have spent at least $160 million.

In a new investigation based on corporate documents and land records in several countries, OCCRP and our partners in Azerbaijan (Mikroskop Media) and Georgia (iFact) can reveal his family’s assets for the first time. The Eyyubovs own real estate in the UK and Dubai worth at least $160 million.

The pearls of their possessions are three mansions on the same street in a prestigious area of North London, which are registered in the name of the official’s wife and daughter, Zohra Sultanova and Elvira Eyyubova. Elvira also owns two penthouses and a luxury apartment closer to the city centre, a flat in Canterbury and a house in the Dorset seaside town.

The relatives bought British assets in 2007-2018 and own them through offshore companies. Reporters were unable to trace the firms’ funding sources. The fact that they belong to the Eyyubovs became known thanks to a law adopted in 2022, which obliges foreign enterprises that own real estate in the UK to transfer information about the beneficial owners to the country’s authorities.

In Dubai, where information about property owners is usually not disclosed, Eyyubov and his relatives, according to leaked documents, own the villas and office space directly.

The official’s wife is a shareholder in two enterprises: a London cafe with a good rating and an elite hotel in the Georgian resort city of Batumi. Both did not exist until 2014, meaning the family could not use the income from them to purchase property.

The source of the Eyyubovs’ wealth remains a mystery. At least until 2020, the latest for which information is available, the official annual salary of the head of the Azerbaijani president’s security service did not exceed $22,000. It is not known whether his wife is currently working, but in 2016 she was listed as an employee of the Institute of Botany of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan. Their daughter Elvira lives in the UK and is a life coach.

The couple has at least five more children, but journalists were unable to determine whether any of them have large independent sources of income. Azerbaijan’s corporate records do not list the owners of the companies, and Tax Ministry data available online only up to 2012 show only that one of Eyyubov’s daughters was once co-owner of a riding club.

The official also has a wealthy brother, Rafig Khasanov. Journalists found no evidence that Bailar ever received funds or assets from him.

Moreover, they were able to confirm only one transaction addressed to Eyyubov. In 2007, when the family bought their first property in the UK, the company they owned in the British Virgin Islands received $250,000 from a New Zealand company. It is unclear what the funds were, but Danske Bank, where the company had an account, was suspected of being involved in another money laundering scandal.

Journalists revealed another interesting detail in corporate documents. In a London cafe and hotel in Batumi, Eyyubov’s wife and two daughters have a prominent partner - a major Georgian entrepreneur Sulkhan Papashvili, who does business in the energy sector of Azerbaijan.

Journalists did not find any documentary evidence that Eyyubov or any of his family members received any money or assets from Papashvili. But the circumstances raise questions about the nature of the relationship, especially since companies owned by Papashvili’s longtime business partner and relative are also involved in managing the Eyyubov family’s real estate.

The head of the president’s security service and his family did not respond to requests for comment.

The law firm representing Papashvili told reporters that Eyyubov never had influence in the energy sector, so assumptions about the connection of Papashvili’s energy business and his partnership with the official’s family are “illogical and false.”

The Eyyubovs have three luxurious mansions in an elite area of London, two of which they reconstructed

Courtenay Avenue, which runs between the vast green spaces of Hampstead Heath and the 18-hole Highgate Golf Club, is considered one of London’s most prestigious streets.

The three Eyyubov mansions in a fenced area cost 63 million pounds sterling ($94 million). The family’s spending on real estate did not stop there.

Their first home on Courtenay Avenue, the red brick and wood Somerlese mansion at the end of the street, is no more. Less than two years after its purchase in 2014 for 17 million pounds sterling ($26 million), an offshore company (Vipogo International Ltd. is registered on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. According to documents obtained by journalists, its beneficiary is Eyyubov’s wife Zohra Sultanova), who owns the house, received permission to build a larger mansion in its place.

Judging by photos posted by the architect on Instagram, the new Somerlese is almost complete by January 2023. The planning document states the three-storey, six-bedroom house now has an indoor swimming pool, gym, wine cellar, steam room, cinema and staff accommodation. The cost of construction is unknown.

Somerlese Mansion Redevelopment Plan
Click to enlarge

Somerlese mansion renovation plan and finished home on Instagram by Christopher Tredway ArchitectsAcross the house is another family mansion - Branksome. In 2018, it was bought by another offshore company for 15 million pounds ($20 million) (Capella Assets Ltd. is registered on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. According to documents obtained by journalists, its beneficiary is Eyyubov’s daughter Elvira). A new one was also built on the site of this house - its cost is unknown. According to planning documents, the new Branksome has six bedrooms, an elevator, a cinema, a games room, a gym and a swimming pool with Jacuzzi.

New Branksome mansion before reconstruction

New Branksome mansion before reconstructionNext door is the family’s third asset on Courtenay Avenue, the Beaulieu mansion. According to land documents, the house was bought by Zohra Sultanova in 2015 for 31 million pounds sterling ($47 million), and then transferred to another offshore company (Vipogo International Ltd. is registered on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. According to documents obtained by journalists, its beneficiary is Eyyubov’s wife Zohra Sultanova).

Beaulieu, unlike Somerlese and Branksome, was not remade. The listing, posted by the realtor selling the house, says it is a "magnificent new mansion" that "combines classic style with cutting-edge technology"; there are nine bedrooms (two for staff) “with luxury bathrooms” in each of them, a large elevator, a sauna, a massage room and a swimming pool.

Beaulieu mansion on the real estate website

Beaulieu mansion on the real estate websiteThrough other offshore companies, Eyyubov’s daughter Elvira likely owns five more properties in the UK, purchased for more than £12 million ($20 million). One of them, a tenth-floor apartment with panoramic windows and views of London, is rented for £1,925 ($2,400) a week.

Eyyubova’s website says that she runs a coaching project in London called Coach Soaring Wings. There is little information about the girl herself, it is only stated that she was “very lucky to visit many countries and discover many cultures.”

Eyyubova is selling six one-hour sessions for £120, or one for £39. These rates don’t explain how she was able to buy such an expensive property - her first at just 20 years old. She did not respond to requests for comment.

In Dubai, Eyyubov, Sultanova and the couple’s three children, including Elvira, have more than a dozen assets. Most of their villas are located on different branches of the Palm Jumeirah, an artificial archipelago in the shape of a palm tree.

Dubai real estate of the Eyyubovs

Journalists received information about the Eyyubovs’ Dubai real estate from documents leaked in 2020, which were provided by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS - The Center for Advanced Defense Studies). The current status of each facility was independently reviewed.

Four villas on "Branch C"

Over the years, starting from 2006, Eyyubov purchased four villas with 4–6 bedrooms here. In 2023, he gave one to his wife Zohra Sultanova and the other to his son Elnur, leaving one for himself. The current status of the fourth villa is unclear, but Eyyubov has owned it since 2020. Today the cost of the villa is estimated at 26 million dollars.

Two villas on "Branch E"

Eyyubov bought a villa with 6 and 4 bedrooms here (the year of purchase is unknown). In 2023, he passed them on to his daughters Elvira and Samra. Today their value is estimated at $24 million. Heydar Aliyev, son of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, owned four villas nearby as of 2020.

Villa on "Branch A"

Beylar Eyyubov once owned a two-story, five-bedroom villa here, which today is valued at $8.5 million. In 2023, he handed it over to his brother Rafig Khasanov, who also owns another villa next door.

Villa in Jumeirah Island complex

At some point, Eyyubov purchased a five-bedroom villa on Jumeirah Island, a complex of 46 “groups” of houses located on islands in an artificial lake. He sold the house sometime after 2020. Today this villa is worth more than 6.5 million dollars.

Commercial and office premises

Eyyubov also once owned commercial space on the ground floor of the 41-story O2 Residence and continues to own office space in the Smart Heights business center. Together, the two properties are valued at $1 million.

Eyyubov is “one of the few people with permanent direct access to the president” of Azerbaijan

Eyyubov’s extensive real estate portfolio is difficult to match with Eyyubov’s early career. According to available data, during Soviet times he worked in the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, an Azerbaijani exclave.

He had connections: he married the great-niece of Heydar Aliyev, an influential member of the Communist Party in Moscow at that time. The family also had difficult times, especially when Aliyev returned to Nakhichevan after the collapse of the USSR. He recalled how, while living in his sister’s house, he accidentally overheard a conversation between the husbands of his two great-nieces (one of them was Eyyubov): the men were discussing where to get meat to feed their relatives.

In 1993, Aliyev became president of independent Azerbaijan, and the family’s affairs went uphill.

The husband of the second great-niece, Vasif Talibov , headed the Nakhichevan Republic. Eyyubov was appointed head of the presidential security service; he retained his position under Ilham Aliyev.

A 2010 International Crisis Group (ICG) report ranked Eyyubov among the most powerful figures in Azerbaijan, noting that he is “one of the few people with constant direct access to the president.”

The official was involved in a scandal. WikiLeaks published a US diplomatic cable from 2008 in which a French businessman alleged that Eyyubov was forcing him to sell him a 40 percent stake in one of Azerbaijan’s largest brewing companies. Fearing for his multimillion-dollar investment, the businessman sold his share to a Russian company and left Azerbaijan, saying that “there are too many sharks in these waters.”

OCCRP was unable to confirm this information, and Eyyubov did not respond to journalists’ questions.

Information about business owners in Azerbaijan is not publicly available, which makes further investigations within the country difficult. Eyyubov appears in the “Pandora Archive ,” a leak of nearly 12 million files from 14 offshore corporate service providers obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. There is reason to believe that back in 2007, the official used offshore companies to receive large sums of unknown origin.

The documents show that in October 2007, a Zurich bank helped Eyyubov establish a company in the British Virgin Islands and open an account for it. A few months later, the firm, Mente Ventures SA, received a transfer of $250,000 from a company registered in New Zealand.

The purpose of the payment indicated “for the purchase of food products.” As far as is known, Eyyubov did not have a business in the food sector at that time.

There is no information about the origin of the funds. However, the activities of the New Zealand company Bigland Corporation Limited that sent the payment are suspicious. In addition to the fact that Danske Bank suspected her of money laundering, according to American law enforcement officials, Bigland received transfers from a Russian company involved in the scheme that Magnitsky uncovered. Such companies are used for different purposes - we do not claim that Eyyubov is in any way involved in this fraudulent scheme.

The Eyyubovs have several business partners in Georgia

Journalists spent several months searching commercial registers around the world for information that could shed light on the sources of the Eyyubovs’ wealth. They found no data to substantiate the real estate portfolio, but they did uncover something interesting: a close partnership with major Georgian businessman Sulkhan Papashvili.

Sulkhan Papashvili and Ilham Aliyev

Sulkhan Papashvili (second from right) and Ilham Aliyev (left) at the opening ceremony of the Papashvili data center in Sumgait, Azerbaijan (2017)Papashvili was an official: from 1998 to 2003, he headed the Georgian Special State Security Service. Among other things, this service was responsible for the protection of the president, which means that Papashvili once performed the same work in Georgia that Eyyubov did in Azerbaijan.

Later, their careers went in different directions: the Georgian left government service and became a successful real estate developer. However, apparently, their personal relationship did not end there. In October 2023, Eyyubov accompanied Aliyev during an official visit to Georgia. At the press conference, Papashvili greeted him with a kiss on the cheek, and at dinner they sat at the same table .

In recent years, Papashvili has built a large-scale business in Georgia to export electricity from Azerbaijan. Trading involving offshore companies lacks transparency. Moreover, according to corporate documents, Papashvili, a man who often handled his affairs and a long-time business partner, have joint businesses with relatives of Azerbaijani officials in the energy sector.

These two men received extensive powers of attorney from the Azerbaijanis, allowing, among other things, to open and close accounts, withdraw funds, buy, sell or give real estate, and even receive correspondence on their behalf.

When asked about his connections with family members of Azerbaijani officials, the law firm representing Papashvili wrote: “The fact that businessmen associated with the families of Azerbaijani officials are engaged in various businesses and/or acquire assets in Georgia is not evidence that they are provided with benefits in any business relations because of Mr. Papashvili.” They also wrote that there is no evidence to suggest that his business is opaque.

Journalists found no evidence that Eyyubov used connections or influence to help Papashvili. However, judging by corporate documents, the relatives of the Azerbaijani official entered the energy business through a Georgian. Eyyubov’s wife, Sultanova, bought a stake in Papashvili’s company, which participated in a tender for the construction of power lines in Georgia, and his son Eldar planned to build two hydroelectric power stations with the support of Georgiy Kukhaleishvili, a business partner of the Georgian businessman and adviser to his energy company. The perpetual power of attorney gives Kukhaleishvili the right to act as a “trusted representative” for his hydropower company. (He did not answer detailed questions about this.)

None of these projects were implemented, but Papashvili has two more businesses with Eyyubov’s relatives.

The first is the boutique hotel Le Port in the first line of the Georgian resort city of Batumi. In 2012, Sultanova bought a 50 percent stake in the Georgian company Gogebashvili 30 LLC, which built and owns the hotel. The second half of the company belongs to Papashvili.

Papashvili’s brother Lasha, contacted by reporters because he also initially invested in the hotel before transferring his share to Papashvili, provided some information about the involvement of the Eyyubov family.

According to him, the four million dollars that the Azerbaijanis invested were provided by Beylyar’s brother Rafig Hasanov (Lasha called him a “very rich businessman”) - he transferred the shares to Sultanov.

Reporters were unable to find any corporate documents indicating that Khasanov owned any company until 2011, just a year before the hotel deal. However, in the following years he actually became rich.

The secretive Khasanov, identified only through a relative’s social media profile and voter registry entries, now owns at least $51 million in private and commercial real estate in Dubai and the Czech Republic, according to corporate and land records obtained by reporters. He also owned $9 million in assets in Russia until at least 2022, but their current status could not be confirmed. Khasanov did not respond to requests for comment.

Le Port Hotel opened in August 2014, and financial statements for its first years of operation are not available. From 2018 to 2020, the business was unprofitable.

In 2020, Eyyubov’s wife and two daughters invested three million pounds sterling (almost $3.8 million) in the British company Beangreen Limited, becoming co-owners with Papashvili himself (through an offshore company in Saint Lucia) and Kukhaleishvili.

Beangreen owns and operates London’s Catalyst Cafe and the building in which it is located. The Evening Standard once praised Catalyst for its "inventive, delicious tavern-style cuisine." Beangreen has been exporting Catalyst coffee to Georgia since at least 2017.

Kukhaleishvili owns the British property management company Kornerstone Limited, which provided administrative services for the renovation of two Eyyubov mansions on Courtenay Avenue. Wife and daughter Elvira use the Kornerstone address as their UK postal address.

The law firm representing Kukhaleishvili said he “did not manage the Eyyubovs’ properties or companies in Georgia and the UK (through Kornerstone or by proxy)” in exchange for favors or preferences. “All relationships between Kukhaleishvili and/or Kornerstone with clients are lawful and legal,” the lawyers wrote. “Kornerstone prides itself on complying with all controls and regulatory requirements when interacting with clients.”

In addition, the company owned by Lasha Papashvili’s wife Khatuna Parjanadze was the general contractor for the renovation of Branksome and also worked on Somerlese.

The company Rockbridge Limited was involved in another mansion on Courtenay Avenue - Ridgefield, located between the Eyyubovs’ houses, belongs to the wife of Sulkhan Papashvili.

Papashvili and Eyyubov are neighbors not only on Courtenay Avenue: the daughter of a Georgian businessman owns a penthouse in the London Visage Apartments complex - Elvira Eyyubova has three apartments there.

The law firm representing Papashvili did not respond to detailed questions about his joint business with the Eyyubov family.