France approves extradition of Kazakh tycoon Ablyazov to Russia and Ukraine
Jan 09. Tengrinews
A French court Thursday approved the extradition of exiled Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, an opposition figure wanted on embezzlement charges by Russia and Ukraine, AFP reports.
The former Kazakh energy and trade minister is accused of having stolen billions of dollars in state and investor funds while leading the Kazakh BTA Bank, which also had interests in Ukraine and Russia.
The judge approved the extradition requests from both Russia and Ukraine but ruled that Russia’s should take priority. Ablyazov’s lawyers are expected to appeal Thursday’s decision and he will not be extradited pending its outcome.
At an earlier hearing prosecuting attorney Solange Legras told the court in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence that there was no chance he would be re-extradited to Kazakhstan if sent to Russia or Ukraine because such a move would violate international agreements.
Ablyazov was first jailed in Kazakhstan in 2002 for abuse of power and illegal business activities. He was quickly pardoned and released, however, and worked in finance until fleeing to Britain in 2009 amid accusations of embezzlement.
He is believed to have stayed there until he was sentenced to 22 months in jail for contempt of court by the London’s High Court.
He did not surrender to the British authorities and is then thought to have moved to Italy before his arrest in the south of France.
The oligarch was arrested in July by 15 police officers in a dramatic raid on the six-bedroom villa he was renting in Mouans-Sartoux on a warrant issued by Ukraine, as a helicopter hovered in case he tried to escape.
Ablyazov filed motions requesting his release on bail twice, while being in custody in France. But the court rejected both motions, because no sufficient guarantees were provided and the court believed that the former head of BTA Bank would flee as soon as he is out of prison, bail or not.
Ablyazov is wanted in Kazakhstan for embezzlement, fraud, money laundering and siphoning off BTA bank’s funds through dummy companies and illegal financial schemes. He may face 13-year of prison with confiscation of property in Kazakhstan.