A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL
The Czech Interior Ministry is due this week to decide whether to grant political asylum to Tatiana Paraskevich, a 49-year-old former accountant with ties to Kazakh oligarch and opposition supporter Mukhtar Ablyazov.
If her asylum bid is denied, Paraskevich -- who has spent the last 18 months in jail in the Czech city of Plzen -- faces likely extradition to either Ukraine or Russia.
Paraskevich's mother, Maria Grigorieva, frequently travels to the Czech Republic to see her daughter.
Grigorieva, 81, told RFE/RL in an interview at its Prague headquarters that her daughter is suffering both physically and psychologically.
"She's already very tired of being there," she said. "She gets very upset -- she cries. And she has heart troubles, arteriosclerosis, and a heart murmur. She has to take pills constantly."
Paraskevich, who holds dual Russian and Kazakh citizenship, is wanted in both Ukraine and Russia on charges of colluding with Ablyazov to embezzle millions of dollars from the oligarch's BTA Bank during a 2009 takeover by the Kazakh government.
Ablyazov, a noted foe of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, is himself in jail in France, following a massive manhunt and the forced deportation of his wife and 6-year-old daughter to Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is seeking to extradite Ablyazov to face charges related to the disappearance of billions of dollars during the controversial BTA takeover.
In the meantime, a handful of Ablyazov associates, including Paraskevich, have also been arrested across Europe and slapped with a range of financial and other criminal charges.
Supporters say the charges are false, and that the multiple arrests are meant as a pressure tactic to secure the extradition of Ablyazov, who has infuriated Nazarbaev by spending millions on Kazakhstan's opposition media and political movements.
According to Paraskevich's 22-year-old daughter, Maria, the pressure has extended to her own family in Moscow, which has faced searches and threats ever since her mother's arrest in the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary in June 2012.
"Our apartment has been searched twice," she says. "Russian investigators came to search the apartment. They had automatic rifles. And then they threatened us. They told me they were going to kidnap me, to frighten my mother into giving evidence against Mukhtar Ablyazov. They told my grandmother, a woman in her 80s, that they were going to put her in jail unless my mother gave evidence and agreed to be extradited to Russia."
The family says much of the pressure has come directly from Nikolai Budilo, an investigator who is among the Russian officials included on the U.S. Magnitsky blacklist for his role in the prison death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.
Budilo is working on behalf of both Russia and Ukraine, which have acted as proxy plaintiffs in the Ablyazov case, requesting international arrest warrants and extradition orders on what appears to be Kazakhstan's behalf.
For defendants, the two-country approach can make the legal challenges far more complex.
If Paraskevich is granted asylum, for example, both extradition orders will be immediately dissolved. But if she is not, the Czech Justice Ministry will return to the business of considering the Russian and Ukrainian extradition requests separately.
A Czech High Court has already approved Paraskevich's extradition to Ukraine, rejecting lawyers' arguments that she would face selective justice and an unfair trial.
That decision is currently being referred to the European Court of Human Rights; in the meantime, Czech justice officials can turn to the Russian request.
Lyudmila Kozlovska is the president of the Warsaw-based Open Dialog Foundation, which provides legal counsel and support to the circle of Ablyazov detainees.
In her opinion, increasingly friendly ties between Prague and Moscow may bode ill for the Paraskevich case-- particularly if the October 25-26 Czech parliamentary elections install a government with a decidedly pro-Russia perspective.
"Russia is a strategic partner for the Czech Republic," she says. "So from all sides we hear these bad prognoses -- that there's a danger that when they form a new government that some official will quickly sign a document [ordering her extradition]. And then it will already be too late for regrets, because she will already be in Russia or Ukraine, or even worse, in Kazakhstan."
Fearing The Worst
Paraskevich's family, which fled Kazakhstan in 2003 following Ablyazov's first arrest, says they fear the worst if Tatiana is handed over to the Nazarbaev regime.
Kazakhstan, which has used its energy riches to forge strong ties with many Western European countries, has largely avoided censure for its abysmal rights record, which includes reports of torture and abuse in its prison system.
The May 2013 abduction of Ablyazov's wife, Alma Shalabaeva, and the couple's daughter, Alua, from their villa in Rome was conducted with the aid of Italian special forces and circumvented all standard procedures used in ordinary deportation cases. Italian officials have since apologized for the case, but Shalabaeva and Alua remain under house arrest in Kazakhstan with no likelihood of escape.
Noting that Czech police failed to produce a warrant when they arrested Tatiana, Paraskevich's mother says she's terrified her daughter will be secretly spirited back to Kazakhstan, like Shalabaeva, and subjected to abuse.
"We're afraid the Czech government will extradite her, either to Russia or Ukraine," she says. "And then you can't rule out that all three countries are cooperating on this, and she'll end up in Kazakhstan like Mukhtar Ablyazov's wife, taken there the same way. She'll be tortured there, of course."
Grigorieva lifts her hands, then lets them fall helplessly back in her lap. "If they extradite her," she says sorrowfully, "we're afraid we'll never see her again."