Behind-the-scenes players of Kazakhstan opposition

PRAGUE, 9 June. European media often features Kazakhstan’s dissidents including Mukhtar Ablyazov, Syrym Shalabaev, Aleksandr Pavlov and brothers Muratbek and Bakhytzhan Ketebaevs. The individuals position themselves as opponents of the current government in Kazakhstan and continuously craft myths of being human rights champions. In reality, all of them are fugitives, hiding in Europe to avoid justice for multiple crimes including embezzlement.

Their sizable wealth allows them to influence public opinion through media and non-governmental organizations, including human rights institutions, and promote the image of being wrongly persecuted by the government. These individuals fuel unrest in the region in order to avoid justice which is finally catching up with them.

For those unaware of the situation it may seem that the opposition movement in Kazakhstan is indeed considerable. One would even want to support the protestors and civil society in Kazakhstan.

A former banker and a fugitive of law Mukhtar Ablyazov founded an unregistered party ALGA in Kazakhstan. He intentionally didn’t register it to later accuse the authorities of impeding the registration process. The registration documents were submitted every so often but the required package was deliberately left incomplete every time. By these means Ablyazov created non-systemic opposition to serve the sole purpose of protection from just prosecution and to cover up the real intentions of the criminal.

All of the above-named individuals had their own roles to play in this criminal empire. Muratbek Ketebaev was the Deputy Chairman of ALGI’s coordination committee. His younger brother Bakhytzhan was heading media relations. The brothers were not only close associates of the party’s leader Mukhtar Ablyazov but both had been married the editor-in-chief of the “Republic” newspaper Irina Petrushova.

Ablyazov’s daughter is married to the son of the former media mogul and the owner of a jewelry company Leila Beketova. Now Ms. Beketova is a wife of the ex-mayor of Almaty Viktor Khrapunov and lives together with their son Ilias in Switzerland.

Syrym Shalabaev is Ablyazov’s brother in law and his treasury. Aleksandr Pavlov is the head of the security and Igor Vinyavsky is a staff journalist. These are just several individuals in the diverse structure. The biggest media promoter of the group is Open Dialogue Foundation headed by Ludmila Kozlovskaya. It took upon itself the role of rehabilitating Mukhtar Ablyazov’s image.

This big tight-knit family basically occupied media space in the European Union with regards to Kazakhstan. And while Ablyazov’s image is beyond rehabilitation even at the hands of the most experienced PR person, the information campaign in his support continues.

Despite his wealth and the loyal staff of wordsmiths, Mr. Ablyazov is currently in French custody for embezzling billions of dollars. His crimes were proven both by the French judicial system and the High Court of London.
The unfortunate morale of the story is first and foremost the lack of immunity in Europe from such crooks. The gang went as far as to propose the reform of the Interpol, the body that was responsible for capturing most of the gang members. Ablyazov had initiated public discussion in light of human rights that was trying to discredit the police and law-enforcement.

Another concerning trend is Europe’s willingness to grant political asylum to such criminals. For example, Spain and Poland are harboring Mr. Pavlov and Mr. Ketebaev. Neither country had looked at the case in full context making the same exact mistake as the United Kingdom made. London had also accepted Mukhtar Ablyazov as a political refugee. However, once several-years-long court proceedings revealed Ablyazov’s crimes, the country had rescinded the refugee status and put the ex-oligarch in jail for 22 months for contempt of the court.

In short, the court investigated the lawsuit from the BTA Bank to Mukhtar Ablyazov for the embezzlement of billions of dollars. The ex-oligarch tried to manipulate the case and prolonged the hearings thus provoking the judges. The case concluded in jail sentence for Mr. Ablyazov.

These manipulations had been performed to hide the embezzled money, sell all assets and transfer property rights to other people. However, the court took decisive measures to seize Ablyazov’s assets and property and continued to meticulously uncover unaccounted-for assets to be able to return them to the bank. It’s enough to mention that the London court established that the embezzlement had been realized through various off-shore companies which number exceeded 1,300!

This is only one fact from Ablyazov’s criminal past. In reality, the scope of his crimes extended beyond Kazakhstan and included Russia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia and other countries. Russia and Ukraine, as the most affected parties, sent France an extradition request for Mukhtar Ablyazov together with the proof of his manipulations. Judging by the recent developments of the case, Ablyazov will be sent to Moscow in the near future. This once again proves that the case has no political backstory.

Recently, Ablyazov and Khrapunov’s US accounts have been frozen. These funds were identified during one of the trials launched in May 2014 in the California District Court at the claims of Kazakh authorities.

Fearing criminal prosecution and arrest of the stolen assets, Mr. Khrapunov and Mr. Ablyazov started selling their property in order to withdraw capital and assets from the American jurisdiction.

Particularly, a major reconstruction project of turning a hotel into apartments in New York City had been put up for sale with significant discount. Instead of the invested USD 40 million, Ablyazov and Khrapunov were prepared to sell their shares for USD 21 million. The sale didn’t go through as a result of the external intervention – BTA Bank, Almaty municipality and Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Justice blocked the transmission of funds. Currently, the U.S. Federal Court and New York City District Court are working on returning the frozen assets to Kazakhstan.

It is also known that each member of the Khrapunov family received personal court injunction to pay the outstanding debt of 286, 5 million francs and 5% on the amount starting January 1, 2000. The debt obligation is based on the alleged involvement of Viktor Khrapunov and his family in the embezzlement of the state funds worth of USD 300 million with the aim of personal enrichment.

Ms. Leila Beketova is outraged that the debt obligation was issued even for her son Ilias who was three years old when the funds had been embezzled. It might be so, but Khrapunov could have deposited the stolen money into his son’s account. As a result of multiple claims and asset freezes once one of the wealthiest families in Kazakhstan is on the verge of bankruptcy. Leila Beketova and Muratbek Ketebaev are using the media to criticize European community for its tacit acceptance of the developments.

In this context it is worth remembering the events in Kazakhstan in 2010. ALGA party instigated unrest in Zhanaozen that later turned into riots, assaults on the ATMs, shops and government buildings. Quite interestingly that it was the same time when Ablyazov suffered first significant losses at the London court.

Bakhytzhan Ketebaev, a former director of Ablyazov’s TV channel “K+”, confessed that one day before the tragic events in Kazakhstan the TV channel recorded a talk show “Will blood be spilled in Zhanaozen?” A number of politicians, including a European Paul Murphy, knew about the impending riots beforehand.

Mr. Ablyazov had been carrying out subversive activities without any limits. Thus, Ablyazov’s assistants – head of the security services Aleksandr Pavlov (responsible for implementing the most difficult and sensitive requests from the oligarch) and Muratbek Ketebaev were planning to carry out terrorist attacks in Kazakhstan. The incidents were planned for March 2012. The first explosion was supposed to go off in on the most popular parks in Almaty on Saturday, when the park is especially crowded.

Kazakhstan’s Prosecutors Office reports that “to carry out terrorist attacks, Pavlov allocated USD 25,000 and transferred USD 15,000 to the contractor.” There were additional attempts to contact radical religious groups.

In April 2016 Kazakhstan was shaken by multiple rallies and protests triggered by the politization of the land reform. And Ablyazov’s team was behind these developments as well.

Tomas Hodan for Caucasus Times

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