Moscow charges Russian nationalist with sedition in Kazakhstan as part of BTA investigation

Moscow charges Russian nationalist with sedition in Kazakhstan as part of BTA investigation
Former owner of BTA Mukhtar Ablyazov is awaiting deportation from France to Russia where he could face embezzlement charges.
By bne IntelliNews March 9, 2016

A Russian nationalist has been indicted in a Moscow court with money laundering and sedition, as part of an alleged scheme in which former owner Mukhtar Ablyazov embezzled $5bn from Kazakhstan’s BTA bank.

Ablyazov has been on the run ever since after he fled Kazakhstan following the collapse of BTA, one of the biggest banks in Kazakhstan at the time, during the 2008 global financial crisis, which exposed the hole in its balance sheet. He is currently in France fighting an extradition order to Russia.

Alexander Potkin also known as Belov, was detained at a Russian hotel on October 15, 2014, in connection with the ongoing investigation into the collapse of BTA bank. In a hearing on on March 4, the Meshchansky District Court of Moscow indicted Potkin, reports Kommersant, who is the former leader of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, a Russian nationalist group.

Part of the reason Ablyazov skipped the country, Kazakh authorities allege, was that he had political aspirations that put him into direct opposition with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Ablyazov is the founder and leader of “Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan" (DCK), a political party, which directly opposed the authoritarian rule of Nazarbayev in the early 2000s. 

Potkin has backed up these claims, testifying that Ablyazov, the former Chairman of the Board of Directors and majority shareholder of BTA, "has considerable funds" and meant "to change the constitutional system in Kazakhstan".

Potkin went on to claim that in 2011 Ablyazov hired him, then leader of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), to "create an extremist community” that could sow unrest in Kazakhstan and create political tension Ablyazov intended to exploit for personal political gain. Potkin said in court he agreed to the plan, which was dubbed project “Angry Kazakh” by the men. Radical opposition members were supposed to be trained at a special camp located in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

According to Russian investigators, the whole project was financed by funds allegedly stolen by Ablyazov from BTA, who is currently awaiting extradition from France to Russia, after being arrested by the French on an Interpol warrant in July 2013.

International human rights groups such as Amnesty International have pressured the French government to halt the extradition as they believe Ablyazov will not receive a fair trial in Russia, a close Kazakh ally. Kazakhstan has been pursuing Ablayazov for several years and lent heavily on its friends in Europe.

On May 29, 2013, Italian police raided a villa in Rome and took Ablyazov's wife, Alma Shalabaeva, and 6-year-old daughter, Alua Ablyazova, into custody. Controversially they were forcibly deported within 72 hours after the paperwork was rushed through and flown home on a private jet hired by the Kazakh embassy in Italy. Her lawyers claim that Ablyazova’s case was political and she was not given the right to appeal, despite having legal British and European residence permits. Commentators have called the incident a “kidnapping” and claim that Ablyazova is being held as a “political hostage”.

Russian investigators presented evidence to support their claims of sedition as well as the ownership of large amounts of valuable land in Moscow’s Domodedovo district, which were supervised by Potkin, prosecutors claim.

Potkin has been charged under the clauses in the Russian criminal code relating to the legalisation and laundering of criminally acquired assets, the incitement of ethnic hatred or enmity and the organisation of an extremist community. Potkin has denied all the charges.

"I have read the constitutions of the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan, and the desire to change the constitutional order is not extremism," Potkin said in a statement. His defence said the persecution of his client unfounded, noting that he has only advisory status to companies that appear in the evidence, and was not on personally familiar terms with Ablyazov.