bne IntelliNews -
A former Kazakh banker accused of stealing up to $6bn from BTA Bank is one step closer to finding himself in a country that might then hand him over to his native Kazakhstan, after the French government signed a decree sealing his extradition to Russia.
Ablyazov’s lawyer Peter Sahlas told AFP on October 12 that his client was informed of the decision the previous week. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls apparently signed the extradition order on September 17, it was reported.
BTA “applauds the Prime Minister’s decision as a crucial step towards forcing Mr Ablyazov to face justice for the billions of dollars that he stole from the Bank”, the Kazakh bank, which Ablyazov once ran during the pre-crisis boom years as chairman and controlled through an undeclared stake, said in a statement emailed to EurasiaNet.org.
Ablyazov will now appeal to the Conseil d'État, France’s supreme administrative court, his lawyer told the French press. Should the Conseil d'État uphold the extradition decree, he will be deported by the end of the year. Observers say it would be highly unusual for the Conseil d'État to rescind the decree.
Amid the salacious details of luxury villas he used as hideouts in Europe while on the run, his family and defence team has attempted to paint Ablyazov, once a leader of an opposition political party, as a victim of a political witch-hunt by Kazakhstan’s authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Following the death of Rakhat Aliyev in a jail in Austria in February, Ablyazov remains the only powerful enemy of the ageing Nazarbayev.
His fate now hangs in the balance, as he has already voiced concerns in the past that Russian judges will eventually send him to Kazakhstan, where he faces prosecution for his political activities. Kazakhstan was also seeking his extradition, but it does not have an extradition agreement with France.
“France must not throw Ablyazov under the bulldozer of these countries’ notoriously corrupt justice systems,” the Wall Street Journal quoted his lawyer Sahlas as saying back in March, when France's top appeal court upheld the extradition request and paved the way for the government to issue the extradition order.
Man of the times
Once an emerging businessman and politician (he also served as Nazarbayev’s energy minister between 1997 and 1998), Ablyazov first fell from grace when in 2001 he co-founded the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK), a movement in opposition to Nazarbayev’s regime.
After serving a jail sentence for abuse of power, he became chairman of BTA Bank, one of Kazakhstan’s largest financial institutions, in 2005, while allegedly continuing to finance opposition movements. He stayed in the post until 2009, when the Kazakh authorities issued an arrest warrant accusing him of embezzling as much as $6bn. He has always rejected those claims, accusing Nazarbayev and his inner circle instead of plotting against him to gain control of BTA Bank.
As his bank collapsed and had to be taken over by the state in February 2009, Ablyazov fled to the UK where he was granted political asylum. However, BTA Bank started legal proceedings in the UK High Court as soon as he stepped onto British soil. When the court preventively froze his assets, he hinted that Judge William Blair, who presided over the case, was part of the plot as the eldest brother of the former British prime minister and now Nazarbayev advisor Tony Blair. The court eventually found him guilty of contempt of court in trying to hide more than £34mn of assets from creditors and sentenced him to 22 months in jail in February 2012.
By that time Ablyazov had already fled the country, though. He then hit the headlines in May 2013 when the Italian police raided a villa in Rome where he was supposedly staying with his family. However, when they arrived the Italian authorities found only his Kazakh wife and six-year-old daughter. They eventually decided to hastily deport them to Kazakhstan anyway, as her diplomatic passport issued by the Central African Republic (CAR) was believed to be false – CAR authorities first claimed the passport was valid, then discovered it indeed was a fake.
As his wife and daughter were prevented from leaving the Kazakh capital of Almaty, Ablyazov was eventually arrested in Cannes, France, in August 2013. He has remained in French custody since.
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