The fourteenth annual Keith Hughes Awards took place on the 15th November at Leicester Tigers stadium, recognising the unsung heroes who bring serious criminals to justice through their financial investigations.

This year the team award was won by a police force responsible for the UK’s biggest modern slavery prosecution. The gang trafficked over 400 vulnerable people to the UK, causing immense suffering and fear and generating £2m that they spent on a lavish lifestyle, before being caught and sentenced.

The individual award winner was the financial investigator who compiled the case against Zamira Hajiyeva, the woman who spent £16m in Harrods, using brand new ‘McMafia’ legislation for the first time ever – Unexplained Wealth Orders. The investigation traced the complicated pattern of money laundering from Azerbaijan through the British Virgin Islands and into the UK.

The Keith Hughes Awards, sponsored by Altia-ABM, recognise the achievements of individuals and teams who have made outstanding contributions to investigating and prosecuting fraud. Altia-ABM technology is used to capture the data, collate, integrate and interrogate vast amounts of financial information, identifying links between suspects and documenting criminal activity to enable successful prosecutions.

Ian Watson, CEO of Altia-ABM, said: “We are delighted to continue to sponsor these awards and I congratulate the winners on their achievement. The work of financial investigators makes a huge difference in our communities. There is a particular satisfaction in not only putting criminals behind bars but also recovering their assets and returning them to the public purse. The day-to-day work of financial investigators is not often celebrated, but society benefits enormously from the professionalism, tenacity and acumen of these investigators.”

The 2019 Keith Hughes Awards winners are:

Left to right: Leah Hughes, daughter of Keith Hughes; Nicola Bartlett, winner of the individual award; Karen Baxter – City of London Police Commander and National Coordinator for Economic Crime; Ian Watson CEO of Altia-ABM.

Individual Award Winner

Nicola Bartlett of the National Crime Agency – Civil Recovery & Tax Operations division

Nicola Bartlett, a financial investigator with the NCA, was the first person in the UK to use Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) powers under the Criminal Finances Act 2017, to bring a prosecution against Zamira Hajiyeva, a UK resident originally from Azerbaijan. Her husband  Jahangir Hajiyev, chairman of the state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan was convicted in 2016 of embezzlement of up to £2.2 billion of public funds. Zamira Hajiyeva had amassed assets valued at £30m including a £15m home near Harrods, a Berkshire golf course and jewellery worth £1.5m. These assets were all frozen by the investigative team.  This was an incredibly complex, multi-jurisdiction investigation, including deciphering many layers of opaque international company and trust structures. Nicola Bartlett was able to rebut technical points made during the court case due to her in-depth understanding of the transactions and company structures. Innovative use of open source material also helped to ensure the prosecution was successful.

Individual Runner-Up

Nick Cotton, Bristol City Council Trading Standards

Nick Cotton successfully prosecuted Tyler Parton, the head of a gang of bogus charity collectors. The gang had amassed £300,000 by tricking the public into donating money to a series of ‘cancer charities’. The fraud was perpetrated between 2012 and 2017 in various locations with collectors operating on the streets and pretending to be selling a periodical.  Nick Cotton worked tirelessly to expose the fraud and to enable the successful prosecution and imprisonment of the perpetrator.

Left to right: Karen Baxter – City of London Police Commander and National Coordinator for Economic Crime: Laura Prescott – West Midlands Police Regional Asset Recovery Team; Bob Saunders – West Midlands Police Regional Asset Recovery Team; Megan Hughes, daughter of Keith Hughes; Ian Watson, CEO of Altia-ABM.

Team Award Winner

Bob Saunders and Laura Prescott of West Midlands Police Regional Asset Recovery Unit, Regional Organised Crime Unit – the financial investigators who worked steadfastly for three and a half years alongside the rest of the West Midlands Police Force team to bring to justice eight individuals operating as slave masters in Birmingham. A further three individuals are awaiting extradition from Poland. The eight so far convicted were sentenced to a total of 55 years in prison. The suffering of the victims has been extreme – 400 vulnerable individuals were brought to the UK with a promise of employment, only to be intimidated, threatened and forced to live in squalid conditions and work for a pittance. The victims were also made to apply for several kinds of social security benefit, all of which was confiscated by the gang. The investigators undertook a painstaking analysis of over 400 bank accounts and compiled 172 victim profiles — the resulting evidence was the basis for the successful prosecutions.

Team Award Runner-Up

HMRC Fraud Investigation Service & Risk and Intelligence Service Team

  • Mike Nelson – RIS Financial Development Team – Manchester – FI
  • Joshua Waddington – RIS Financial Development Team – Manchester – FIO
  • Alex Barnett – FIS Organised Crime – Cardiff
  • Lisa Adcock – FIS Organised Crime – Cardiff
  • Jeff Wilson – FIS Proceeds of Crime – Cardiff – FI
  • Greg Kelly – FIS Proceeds of Crime – Cardiff – FI
  • Anne Burgess – FIS Proceeds of Crime – Bristol – FI

The team enabled the dismantling of an international organised crime gang laundering £1m per week. 13 individuals were arrested and 27 search warrants executed in England and Northern Ireland. The teams in the UK also worked closely with the authorities in Poland. Along with huge sums of money in cash that were discovered in the locations searched (totalling £1.2m), several luxury vehicles were seized including an Aston Martin DB11, a Bentley Bentayga, and a Range Rover. The financial investigation team showed amazing tenacity and perseverance in order to compile all the information required to demonstrate the involvement of these individuals.

Left to right: Mick Creedon former Chief Constable of Derbyshire; Alison Moore; Ian Watson of Altia-ABM.

Outstanding Service Award – Alison Moore

This year an additional award was presented by Altia-ABM to Alison Moore formerly of the Home Office criminal finance team for outstanding service in the fields of financial investigation and asset denial. Alison Moore has taken a leading role in establishing the legislation which law enforcement agencies have come to rely on — the enforcement powers in the Serious Crime Act 2015 and the development of Asset Freezing Orders and Unexplained Wealth Orders. She has always been the go-to person in the Home Office for anything relating to asset recovery and has made a huge contribution in terms of convincing ministers to take action and devising the legislation to best meet the needs of the enforcement community.

The awards were established in memory of Detective Constable Keith Hughes, an outstanding financial investigator with the former National Crime Squad, who passed away in July 2003.