Kazakhstan: Fugitive Oligarch’s Wife Faces Criminal Probe After Deportation
The wife of fugitive Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov has been deported from Italy to Kazakhstan, where she is facing a criminal investigation as Astana steps up its four-year campaign against the businessman.
Alma Shalabayeva was arrested on the outskirts of Rome overnight May 28-29 along with her six-year-old daughter, Alua Ablyazova, Kazakhstan’s prosecutor’s office confirmed on June 3. Spokesman Nurdaulet Suindikov said Shalabayeva was arrested in possession of a forged passport “with clear signs of fictitiousness, supposedly issued by the Central African Republic in the name of Ayan Alma.”
He said Shalabayeva, currently residing with relatives in Almaty, is under investigation in Kazakhstan for forgery offenses and has signed an agreement not to leave the city.
Ablyazov has accused the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of “kidnapping” his wife and daughter. In a Facebook posting on June 3, he questioned the speed of the deportation and said his wife had told him she was flown out of Italy on a “luxurious” chartered aircraft accompanied by consular staff from Kazakhstan.
Her Italian lawyer, Riccardo Olivo, also questioned the rapid unfolding of events. “It is incredible how quickly this took place,” he told Reuters on June 1. “They handed her over as a hostage to a dictator and this is very grave.”
Ablyazov’s whereabouts have been unknown since he fled from 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, which he once chaired and owned through an undeclared holding.
Judge Nigel Teare accused Ablyazov of “deliberate and brazen” deception in concealing assets including a house worth a million pounds on The Bishops Avenue, a swish London address nicknamed “billionaires’ row.” Last month the High Court approved the sale of that and other luxury properties owned by Ablyazov to compensate BTA Bank.
Ablyazov, who fled Kazakhstan for London in 2009, has always denied the fraud charges, arguing that Astana is targeting him for political reasons (back in 2001 he spearheaded a reform movement and subsequently served time on corruption charges he denied and said were politically motivated).
Ablyazov – who has political asylum in Britain – has become something of a bête noire for Astana: It has accused him of being behind many problems facing Kazakhstan, from financing fatal unrest in Zhanaozen in 2011 to plotting terrorist attacks in 2012 and stoking pension reform protests in 2013.
Ablyazov has denied the litany of accusations, some of which have provoked skepticism from commentators in Kazakhstan who believe Astana is using him as a convenient scapegoat for all its ills.
**UPDATE: On June 5 Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement outlining the Kazakh government’s position on Shalabayeva’s deportation, stating that she would not be held responsible for Ablyazov’s alleged crimes.
“Shalabayeva is not accused of Mr Ablyazov’s crimes and will not be prosecuted for his actions,” the statement said. “She is, however, considered an important witness and will be questioned with regards to the whereabouts of her husband, as well as in connection to the illegally issued Kazakh passports. She has the right not to testify against her husband, as guaranteed under the Kazakhstan legislation.”
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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