From Jail to Opposition Hero

PRAGUE, 1 May, Caucasus Times. With the launch of the trial in absentia on BTA bank funds embezzlement, the key defendant of the criminal case, Mukhtar Ablyazov, has resumed his political activities. Former Chairman of the Bank’s Board of Directors is accused of embezzling more than US 7.5 billion dollars. He has recently been released from custody after being arrested at Russia’s request by the French police three years ago.

Kazakhstan’s Public Prosecutor’s Office spent 8 years when the BTA Bank investigation was ongoing trying to secure the extradition of the fugitive oligarch first from London and later Paris. However, the request has never been granted.

Five years ago, after the UK revoked the asylum status it granted in 2011 to Ablyazov, he fled to Paris. It happened after Britain’s High Court had ordered the oligarch to pay the BTA Bank compensation of US 2.1 billion dollars.

In total, British courts established that Ablyazov and his accomplices embezzled more than 4.3 billion dollars. According to the investigation, this money had been laundered from Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank through the global network of over 1,300 off-shore companies in over 10 countries. The investigation is currently ongoing in the UK.

In July 2013 French law-enforcement agencies arrested Ablyazov on an Interpol warrant. Russia also requested the former banker’s extradition and the request was granted by French authorities in 2015. However, in December 2016 French Conseil d’État, highest administrative government body, overruled the extradition decision and released Ablyazov from jail. Paris justified its decision saying that the Russian request for extradition was “politically motivated”.

As it turns out, this decision gave Ablyazov a blank check to continue his activities and proved once again that the European Union is still very careful when dealing with its Eastern neighbors.

During the debates around Ablyazov’s fate in the French state administration, several media sources implied that, allegedly, one of the political parties vying for power in France received financial contribution from the tycoon. No evidence was further offered to support the allegations, and Ablyazov was freed from jail.

Recently, Interpol has received a joint letter from the members of the European Parliament, concerned about the cases of political persecution against dissidents, asking to remove Mr. Ablyazov and several of his friends’ names from the Red Notice. The letter was signed by Mrs. Julie Ward (S&D; UK), Mrs. Marju Lauristin (S&D; Estonia), Mr. Tomáš Zdechovský (EPP; the Czech Republic) and Mr. Tunne Kelam (EPP; Estonia) and lobbied by Open Dialogue Foundation.

The Foundation, established in Poland in 2009, focuses on human rights, democracy and rule of law research in post-Soviet countries, particularly in Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Open Dialogue has stated that Ablyazov’s persecution is politically motivated.

Ablyazov has just appealed to Kazakhs to consolidate all opposition forces in the country and abroad.

Bakhtovar Aliev, special for Caucasus Times

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