Storms in Italy over “kidnapping” Ablyazov relatives: no reason to blame Kazakhstan

The case concerning the “kidnapping” in the appointed  lawyers’ terminology of the wife and daughter of Kazakhstan’s former banker and wanted white collar criminal Mukhtar Ablyazov, himself now under arrest in France pending the latter’s decision for his eventual extradition, has been drawing headlines in Italy and beyond for a number of weeks now. Relatives of the couple have filed judicial complaintsto prosecutors  in Italy following the wife’s and daughter’s extradition to Kazakhstan by Italian police not just against Italian officials but also against Kazakh ones. Whereas the Italian party has officially recognised that its employees have been at fault in capturing and extraditing the pair and reversed the extradition decision, accusations that Kazakh authorities operating on Italian territory should be supposed to have been actively involved in the affair look pretty groundless for it.

CHARLES VAN DER LEEUW, WRITER, NEWS ANALYST

Storms in Italy over “kidnapping” Ablyazov relatives: no reason to blame KazakhstanJust a reminder of how the relatives of the wanted “political dissident” in several (though not all) human rights watchdogs’ views were “kidnapped” under the Mediterranean sun. “A daughter of Mukhtar Ablyazov, a Kazakh opposition activist, is to file a criminal complaint against three diplomats, accusing them of complicity in kidnapping his wife and six-year-old child in Italy. The complaint – to be lodged by lawyer Astolfo di Amato, a former judge of Italy’s supreme court, on Wednesday – seeks to strip the Kazakh envoys of diplomatic immunity and represents an escalation of a case that rocked Rome’s coalition government and led to a serious deterioration of relations with Kazakhstan,” the Financial Times (http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/019bb71c-2530-11e3-b349-00144feab7de.html) wrote n a report published on September 24. “The case is being filed by Madina Ablyazova, the couple’s eldest daughter. Alma Shalabayeva, and her six-year-old daughter Alua, were deported on a private jet to Kazakhstan, paid for by the Kazakh embassy and accompanied by two of the country’s diplomats, on May 31 after they were seized in a raid on a villa in Rome by Italian police at the request of Kazakhstan, which was seeking the arrest of Mr Ablyazov.”

The paper quoted family lawyers as stating “The complaint is based on damning evidence that the three diplomats played crucial and active roles in the aggravated kidnapping.” “The envoys could face 15-year jail sentences if convicted,” the article reads further. “The case is being filed by Madina Ablyazova, the couple’s eldest daughter. Alma Shalabayeva, and her six-year-old daughter Alua, were deported on a private jet to Kazakhstan, paid for by the Kazakh embassy and accompanied by two of the country’s diplomats, on May 31 after they were seized in a raid on a villa in Rome by Italian police at the request of Kazakhstan, which was seeking the arrest of Mr Ablyazov.” Still further down, the article continues: “The UN office for human rights in Geneva said the ‘unlawful’ deportation of Ms Shalabayeva amounted to ‘extraordinary rendition’. An Italian government inquiry found that due process was not followed and revoked the deportation order. Rome has asked Kazakhstan to allow Ms Shalabayeva and her daughter to return to Italy. Kazakhstan has refused, saying she faces charges of forgery, and has threatened economic retaliation, if the crisis were to escalate, according to officials involved in the diplomatic stand-off.” Later on, the Kazakh government suggested that the pair could eventually return to Italy if Mrs. Shalabaeva should make a request for it. But as far as known, she has refrained from doing so this far.

Meanwhile, in Italy, Ablyazova’s complaint has been accepted by prosecutors – and even though they are unlikely to get even close to filing charges, “investigations” have taken off – including against Kazakh diplomats. “The Prosecutor’s Office of Rome started the investigation against three Kazakh diplomats on the extradition of Alma Shalabaeva, wife of fugitive Kazakh banker Mukhtar Ablyazov from Italy to Kazakhstan,” the Baku-based newsreel Trend reported on September 27, quoting the Russian news agency RIA Novosti which in turn refererred to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. “According to the newspaper, Kazakh ambassador to Italy Adrian Elemesov, political advisor of the Embassy Nurlan Hasen and attach? for consular affairs Yerzhan Esirkepov are under investigation. All three diplomats may be called to the prosecutor’s office for questioning in the near future. Earlier Mukhtar Ablyazov’s daughter accused Kazakh diplomats living in Rome of kidnapping her family last spring, and said Italian officials were accomplices. In a formal criminal complaint in Rome she named three diplomats who she said were responsible for kidnapping her mother Alma Shalabayeva and her six-year-old sister on May 31, while searching for her father. She also called on authorities to identify Italian interior ministry and police officials who “behaved against the law when expelling the woman and her daughter”. In late May the wife of the fugitive oligarch Alma Shalabayeva, and their six-year-old daughter were detained in an overnight raid in Italy. They were rushed onto a private jet with Kazakh diplomats and flown back to Kazakhstan. Later Ablyazov was detained in France.” So far, though, no one seems to have been called to any police station for interrogation.

Back in Almaty, Alma Shalabaeva (also spelt Shalabayeva) is likely to be particularly important as a witness concerning her two brothers Salym and Syrim. Both have been heavily involved in Ablyazov’s embezzlement network and acted as proxy, nominally owning shadow enterprises in various parts of the world with the aim to hide their real ownership (read: Ablyazov) from the public eye. As reported at the time, in late summer 2010 the London-based law firm Clyde & Co, one of the solicitors teams which used to represent Ablyazov’s brother-in-law and associate Syrym Shalabayev in BTA’s legal Battle of Britain, clashed with the UK High Court on allegations that it had helped its client hold out on information concerning the role of Shalabayev. “Ruling in a preliminary matter relating to the mammoth case that is JSC BTA Bank v Ablyazov & Ors, Mr Justice Henderson told the firm it must give contact details for its client, Syrym Shalabayev, a defendant in the primary proceedings,” The Lawyer wrote on September 9. “In the primary case, JSC BTA Bank of Kazakhstan is attempting to recoup losses of $290m (?181.2m), which it alleges were fraudulently misappropriated by its -former chairman, Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is living in the UK. Hogan Lovells partner Chris Hardman has been instructed to pursue the losses for the bank. […] Clydes partner Julian Connerty is acting for the defendant, who was served a worldwide freezing order in November 2010 with committal proceedings launched against him in December. By May Shalabayev had not responded and Mr -Justice Briggs found him to be in contempt of court. Briggs J said the alleged contempt ‘is proven beyond reasonable doubt’. However, Shalabayev refused to comply with the freezing order and refused to pay the ?70,000 interim costs order made against him on 27 June. Consequently, the bank went to the High Court to force Clydes to disclose his contact details.”

Apart from the information obtained through Clyde’s forced contribution, the main treasure of Ali Baba for BTA’s defence in the overall cases it was running against Ablyazov and associates was to be found later on. “A container with documents relating to the offshore companies owned by Mukhtar Ablyazov, the former head of Kazakhstan-based BTA Bank, has been found in London,” Interfax reported on December 6 this year. “The High Court of England interrogated Chris Hardman, a witness from BTA Bank in Ablyazov’s contempt of court case and a partner of Hogan Lovells, a legal firm, said the complainant’s representatives. Earlier the High Court of England obligated M.Ablyazov to transfer all his assets to KPMG under a management agreement until the hearings into the BTA case were over. […] Mr. Hardman told the Court that Hogan Lovells had come across a container where a great number of documents relating to the activities of over 600 offshore companies were stored. This container was frequented by Salim Shalabayev who was helping his elder brother Sarym Shalabayev (both are brothers of M.Ablyazov’s wife) to hide Ablyazov’s assets from the Court. […] It came to the knowledge of the Court that Salim Shalabayev had been seen a number of times moving boxes with documents out of a container in Big Yellow Box storage facility and taking them to Ablyazov’s house in Bishops Avenue. He was also seen taking the boxes back into the container. BTA lawyers, who had a suspicion that the container might contain the documents that had been hidden from the Court, obtained access to the place where they did find Ablyazov’s documents on a large number of offshore companies, through which he was hiding the fraudulently obtained money.”

The property in England was poised to be among the three cases which made Ablyazov fall through in his misleading statements in court. “It is the Bank’s case that Mr. Ablyazov is the true UBO of four properties in England: Carlton House on The Bishop’s Avenue, Oaklands Park in Surrey, a flat in Elizabeth Court in St. John’s Wood and a flat in Alberts Court, also in St. John’s Wood,” the court’s report on the contempt verdict was to read. Closely associated with the affair were the Salabayev brothers, Ablyazov’s two brothers in law. “Mr. Ablyazov’s case is that Syrym Shalabayev is the true UBO of Carlton House, Oaklands Park and Elizabeth Court and that Salim Shalabayev is the true UBO of Alberts Court,” the verdict was to continue. “Mr. Ablyazov denied that he lied on oath. He says that he is not the UBO of those companies which are the registered proprietors of the four properties. His case, though he bears no burden of proof, is that Mount Properties Limited, a company incorporated in the BVI, which is the registered proprietor of Carlton House, is owned by Syrym Shalabayev, that Lafe Technology Limited, a company incorporated in the Seychelles, which is the registered proprietor of Oaklands Park Estate, is owned by Syrym Shalabayev and that Rocklane Properties Limited, a company incorporated in the BVI, which is the registered proprietor of 79 Elizabeth Court, is owned by Syrym Shalabayev. Finally, he says that Bensbourogh Trading Inc., a company incorporated in the BVI, which is the registered proprietor of 17 Alberts Court, is owned by Salim Shalabayev. Carlton House […] comprises, inter alia, a 50ft. ballroom, a library, 9 bedroom suites, a swimming pool and a 12 person Turkish bath. The shares in Mount Properties, the registered proprietor of Carlton House, were purchased on 26 April 2006 for the sum of ?15.5m. It is common ground that Mr. Ablyazov has lived there since May 2009 though the Bank also maintains that Mr. Ablyazov and his family have lived there since at least 2007. Whilst Mr. Ablyazov accepted that Mrs. Ablyazov stayed there when she visited London (he said she “stayed with her brother”) I do not consider that the question of the ownership of Carlton House can be determined by the pieces of evidence on which the Bank relied to say that the family lived there since 2007.”

The question remains whether or not Kazakh diplomats and security officials have indeed been at fault in the process. The way things looked from the very beginning, this does not seem to be so. First of all, any sovereign state has the right to demand the extradition of anyone accused of misdeeds from any other state. This is what Kazakh officials did in Italy. Italy, like any other state, maintains the right either to grant the request or to refuse it. Various countries have varying standards and laws that regulate the process of decision making, often through interventions by courts of law. In case the request is granted, in this case by the Italian authorities, the state that filed the request, in this case Kazakhstan, has the right to evacuate the persons concerned after they have been handed over. If in the course of the decision-making procedures Italy’s regulations have been violated, Italian police and other authorities should be blamed for it and not Kazakhstan or any of its representatives. The accusation that Kazakh diplomats and other officials have been actively involved in the arrest and extradition of the wife and daughter of a notorious culprit and massive fraudster, with the wife only having been charged with a minor offence and mainly being wanted as a witness, does therefore not seem to be based on anything. Kazakh authorities duly filed the country’s request and after that just waited by the door.

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