Kazakhstan: Astana and Fugitive Banker Argue over Fate of Wife
Astana and fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov are engaged in an escalating war of words after Italy expressed contrition for deporting his wife and daughter to Kazakhstan.
Italy revoked the deportation order on July 12, citing failings in the procedure that saw Alma Shalabayeva and six-year-old Alua Ablyazova arrested in an overnight raid near Rome on May 28-29 and whisked to Kazakhstan on a private jet. Shalabayeva is now under criminal investigation in Almaty for allegedly using forged documents.
“It was a grave failure not to inform the government of the entire episode, which had from the start elements and characteristics that were not ordinary,” Reuters quoted a statement from Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s office as saying.
The speed of the deportation was questioned at the time, with Shalabayeva’s Italian lawyer Riccardo Olivo describing it as “incredible” and accusing Rome of having “handed her over as a hostage to a dictator.”
Ablyazov says he believes his wife and daughter are in “grave danger” in Kazakhstan. In a letter to Letta quoted by La Stampa, he hailed the “courageous decision” to revoke the deportation order but said he feared Astana planned to send his wife to jail and his daughter to an orphanage.
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry immediately fired back, dismissing the idea that Shalabayeva was being mistreated. All her “rights and freedoms” were being “fully observed,” it said in a July 13 statement, and under Kazakh law “all norms and procedures [in her deportation] … were duly observed.”
Ruling out her immediate return to Italy, the ministry said that pending the results of an investigation into “the illegal issuing of Kazakhstani passports to her husband’s relatives,” Shalabayeva had voluntarily signed an undertaking not to leave Almaty, where she is staying with relatives.
Shalabayeva is suspected of using “an illegally acquired Kazakhstani passport,” the ministry continued, but it made no mention of previous prosecutor’s office accusations leveled at Shalabayeva that she possessed a forged passport “supposedly issued by the Central African Republic in the name of Ayan Alma.”
The ministry took pains to state that Shalabayeva was not “threatened with prosecution for [Ablyazov’s] deeds.” Kazakhstan accuses the fugitive oligarch of defrauding BTA Bank, which he once headed and owned in an undeclared holding.
Ablyazov’s whereabouts have been unknown since he fled British justice in 2012 after London’s High Court ordered him jailed for concealing assets in a $6-billion fraud case brought against him by BTA Bank. (Shalabayeva may know where her husband is: La Repubblica newspaper reported that when she was arrested in Rome she was in possession of a memory card containing a photo of him datestamped May 25.)
At the end of last year Ablyazov was debarred from fighting the fraud case in London, and in May the High Court approved the sale of luxury properties that he owned to compensate BTA for its losses.
Ablyazov, who fled Kazakhstan for London in 2009, has always denied the fraud charges, arguing that Astana is targeting him for political reasons.