Kazakhstan: Fugitive Oligarch Reported Captured in France
Fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, who has been on the run from police in Kazakhstan and Britain, has been captured in the south of France, according to a report in the Financial Times.
Ablyazov was arrested on July 31 by French special forces near the billionaires’ playground of Cannes, the FT quoted an unnamed family lawyer as saying. It did not specify on what charges Ablyazov had been detained: Kazakhstan has been pursuing him for alleged financial crimes that Ablyazov denies, and he also has a case to answer in Britain, where he escaped a jail sentence for contempt of court last year by going underground.
Ablyazov formerly chaired Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, which he also owned through an undeclared holding until it was forcibly nationalized in 2009. Ablyazov fled to London, where he was sued by his former bank for allegedly defrauding it of some $6 billion.
After years of legal wrangling, Ablyazov – who accuses Astana of pursuing him for political reasons and has asylum in the United Kingdom – fled to an unknown destination when the London High Court ordered him jailed for “deliberate and brazen” deception (concealing assets he had been ordered to disclose in the fraud case). Ablyazov was later debarred from fighting the case and the courts ordered his assets sold to compensate BTA Bank.
Ablyazov had been living underground, but the net has been closing in of late. Last month his wife and six-year-old daughter were deported to Kazakhstan from Italy under circumstances which have caused a storm of controversy. Italy has since ruled the deportation illegal, but in Kazakhstan she is under investigation for alleged document fraud.
Ablyazov has accused Astana of holding his wife and daughter hostage, but the Kazakh government has insisted that she is being well treated. All her “rights and freedoms” are being “fully observed,” it said in a July 13 statement.
The Financial Times reports that Russia has requested Ablyazov’s extradition. Ablyazov had extensive business interests there, and the Russian authorities also had an arrest warrant out for him.
Ablyazov would be more likely to face extradition to Kazakhstan from Russia than the European Union, where arguments that he would be unlikely to get a fair trial will carry more weight. Ablyazov has already faced trial by media in Kazakhstan, where state TV has aired vitriolic documentaries about him. Astana accuses him not only of financial crimes but also of financing fatal unrest in western Kazakhstan in 2011.
Ablyazov denies all the charges and argues that Astana is persecuting him for his vociferous opposition to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.