The Ablyazov files: how the Battle of the Thames comes home to Central Asia – via Washington and Brussels

“A fishing expedition”, “‘nit picking” and “simply an attempt to suggest something sinister or suspicious”. Such qualifications have been used by officials of England’s Home Office in response to attempts by lawyers on behalf of Kazakhstan’s master culprit Mukhtar Ablyazov, formerly in control of the country’s one-time leading bank BTA to reverse its decision to withdraw the man’s political asylum erroneously granted at the time of the present Tory-dominated coalition’s entry into office. A court of law ruled last week that the status’ withdrawal should be held up till the middle of May but rejected a claim to reverse it – for the simple reason that it has no authority to do so. A similar rope-pulling series of proceedings is dragging on in France, where the culprit remains behind bars pending extradition either to Ukraine or to Russia. But in a broader context, the Kazakh “opposition leader” as provocative media reports staunchly dub him, appears to be a welcome instrument for those political forces seeking to isolate Russia from its former Soviet partners and undermine the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union in the making. In the process, even the vilest means seem to be considered justified.

BY CHARLES VAN DER LEEUW, WRITER, NEWS ANALYST

The Ablyazov files: how the Battle of the Thames comes home to Central Asia - via Washington and Brussels“The UK cannot take further steps until next month to cancel the asylum status it granted in 2011 to Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former banker accused of fraud and one of Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev’s main political opponents, a court has ruled” the Financial Times wrote on April 23 [http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/9afa62ae-cafe-11e3-ba9d00144feabdc0.html#axzz2znuqyJ3c] in a follow-up on an earlier report on the issue. “Mr Ablyazov, former chairman and main shareholder of Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, which was nationalised in 2009, was informed in January of the UK Home Office’s intention to cancel his refugee status. His lawyers allege the decision was taken after lobbying by Kazakhstan. Mr Ablyazov, a former energy minister and opposition party leader, faces criminal charges in Kazakhstan related to alleged fraud at BTA Bank estimated by the government at $15bn, as well saying they are politically motivated.”

As the latest setback (for the victims of Ablyazov, that is) in France, a mere formality appears to be in the way here – namely the fact that as it seems the government failed to notify the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regarding its latest measure.  “On Wednesday Mr Justice Ouseley, sitting in the Upper Tribunal, ruled that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, could not take any further steps until May 15 towards the cancellation of Mr Ablyazov’s UK refugee status in terms of notifying UNHCR, the UN refugee agency,” the FT report reads further down. “Jonathan Glasson QC, representing Mr Ablyazov, told the tribunal that they had made requests for further material from the Home Office following what he claimed was ‘inappropriate contact’ between Kazakhstan and the UK. The court heard Mr Ablyazov had received a letter on January 8 saying that Ms May was considering revoking refugee status in the light of a default ruling made by a Commercial Court judge that Mr Ablyazov was liable for fraud and after a contempt of court order was handed down following his conduct in the litigation. Mr Glasson QC argued that his client was ‘entitled to the evidence on which the secretary of state has reached this intention’. He told the court that three recent letters sent to the Home Office in April had gone unanswered.”

The government has dismissed the “political” dimension persistently brought forward by Ablyazov and his lawyers throughout all proceedings – thereby following numerous court disclosures, as a ‘fishing expedition’ and ‘nit picking’ and ‘simply an attempt to suggest something sinister or suspicious’ and said that Mr Ablyazov was not entitled to every single Home Office document,” the article continues. “He said at least one of the letters from Mr Ablyazov’s lawyers had raised a “barrage of legal points” and the letters needed careful consideration before reply. Giving an oral ruling, Mr Justice Ouseley noted that the Home Secretary had written to Mr Ablyazov in January 2014 saying she was considering cancelling his refugee status following the findings of Mr Justice Teare and the ‘condemnatory conclusions’ of the High Court and Court of Appeal. The judge ruled there was no basis for requiring disclosure of an entire case file before making representations upon the notification of the proposed cancellation of refugee status. He allowed the additional time but also refused permission for a judicial review application as he can ‘see no further purpose for the proceedings to remain in existence’.”

Similar procedural omissions have held up proceedings in France, where the culprit remains behind bars pending his extradition either to Russia or to Ukraine. In a press release [http://bta.kz/en/press/news/2014/04/11/798/] BTA quoted its lawyer in France Antonin Levy as stating: : “The Bank has been informed today of the annulment of the 9 January 2014 decisions of the Aix en Provence Court of Appeal granting the extradition requests of Russia and Ukraine. We understand that according to the decision of the French Supreme Court, such annulment resulted solely and exclusively from an administrative error by the Court in the extradition process in failing to have Mr. Ablyazov sign an official record before the Court objecting again to the extradition requests following a minor change in the composition of the Court.  We also understand that the annulment is a mandatory and automatic result of this administrative error and does not challenge or affect in any way the reasoning or merits of the Aix en Provence Court of Appeal. French justice has joined British justice in acknowledging the massive frauds committed by Mr. Ablyazov to the prejudice of the Bank. Mr. Ablyazov has been described as a “criminal on a grand scale” by the Public Prosecutor in Aix-en-Provence. The Bank understands that the extradition requests will now be heard afresh by the Court of Lyon and that Mr. Ablyazov will remain in custody until that court makes its decision.”

BTA, which is in the process of being merged into its new major shareholder and former rival Kazkommertsbank (KazCom), still hopes to see the entire affair end in getting at least part of the stolen billions back. “The Bank is obviously disappointed by the delays which will be caused by this administrative error, particularly where Mr. Ablyazov and his lawyers have always made abundantly clear to the court in Aix en Provence and generally his objections to the extradition requests,” Levy’s statement continues. “However, the 9 January 2014 decisions upheld the Russian and Ukraine requests comprehensively on the merits and the Bank fully expects that the new French court will reach exactly the same decisions. In particular, the Court ruled that both extradition requests were not made for political reasons and that indeed Mr Ablyazov had not asserted that he had carried out any political activities in either country. The Court was also satisfied that Mr Ablyazov could receive a fair trial and humane treatment in both countries and was not at risk of being re-extradited to Kazakhstan. As the detailed grounds for those requests are already before with the French court, along with Mr. Ablyazov’s objections, we understand that the new court should be able to issue a fresh ruling within a few weeks. In the meantime, Mr. Ablyazov is expected to remain in custody to prevent him from fleeing justice again. The Bank continues to support all efforts to ensure that Mr. Ablyazov stands trial for at least some of the serious frauds he committed against BTA. His extradition will also assist the Bank in its recovery efforts by limiting his ability to continue to launder the proceeds of his wrongdoing.”

The bank’s overall fear is that western warmongers will use the Ablyazov case to put pressure on Ukraine’s self-styled government to have the case dropped altogether and block extradition to Russia under “sanctions” following the Crimea’s adherence to the Russian Federation. Various information and opinion channels including not just bloggers but also prestigious global news channels appear to join the chorus of Washington’s and Brussels’ tendentious conflict mongers. “Putin is now expected to turn to the autocrats of Central Asia, particularly Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, to further his aim of erecting a Eurasian Union of former Soviet states,” Reuters wrote in a report published on March 26 [http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/28/us-ukraine-crisis-usa-centralasia-idUSBREA2R1UQ20140328]. “Kazakhstan is one of two ex-Soviet states, along with Belarus, that has joined a customs union with Russia. Members plan to sign documents this year to form the Eurasian Economic Union, a regional bloc within former Soviet borders intended eventually as a counterweight to the European Union. While the other four former Soviet republics in Central Asia – Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – will not be founder members of the new body, all are likely to be drawn closer into Moscow’s orbit as it restores influence in a region it ruled for most of the 19th and 20th centuries.”

Earlier, a blog posted on the Washington Post’s site on March 7 when tie violent insurgence in Kiev was still in full swing under the headline “Why Ukraine’s crisis keeps central Asian leaders up at night” and written by George Washington University political scientist Marlene Laruelle and cultural anthropologist Sean Roberts reads as follows: “The ongoing crisis in Ukraine highlights just how contested and potentially unstable our geopolitical landscape is becoming, but how one interprets the crisis depends on the vantage point from where one is watching it.  There are few places outside Ukraine and Moscow where the crisis is likely causing more angst than in the halls of power in central Asia.  For the leaders of the central Asian states, events in Ukraine must be provoking multiple and somewhat contradictory anxieties. […]Driven from power, the former Ukrainian president’s dirty laundry has been literally aired internationally.  Images of his palatial estate, complete with its own zoo and golf course, have gone viral on the Internet, cementing the former leader’s legacy as a corrupt and self-indulging autocrat.  Without a doubt, for the various leaders in central Asia, and especially for the aging presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, these images should provoke sleepless nights worrying about what excesses from their lives might come to light once they are gone. On the other hand, central Asian leaders also must be watching recent events in Crimea with an eye toward the potential actions of Russia in its near abroad. Although none of the central Asian states could be characterized as solidly anti-Russian, they all have reasons to exert their independence from Russia.  In this context, one must assume that recent events have transformed the “Ukrainian question” into the “Crimean question” for the central Asian leaders.”

But also on regional levels, some reactions publicised in the course of events give reason to fear that the wedge attempted to be driven by the US/EU lobby could turn out successful at least to some extent. “For Central Asia, the events in Ukraine can be interpreted as a moment of truth,” one comment published online by The Central-Asia Caucasus Analyst on April 2  [http://www.cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/12949-ukraine-and-the-cis-perspective-implications-for-central-asia.html] and written by Dr. Farkhod Tolipov holds a PhD in Political Science and is Director of the Education and Research Institution “Bilim Karvoni” in Tashkent, was to read. “Astana, Bishkek and Tashkent initially issued official statements on the events in Ukraine in March and spoke out for the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. They expressed concern about the course of events. Bishkek’s statement was more cautious and Dushanbe’s position was rather pro-Russian. These statements could be considered as a warning message addressed not only towards Ukraine by stressing the importance of a peaceful resolution to the crisis, but also towards Russia. However, after Crimea’s de facto secession and annexation to Russia, Astana and Bishkek slightly changed their positions, issuing statements cautiously expressing “understanding” and “recognition” of the fait accompli.”

But the suggestion goes even a few steps further. “In the context of the Ukrainian drama, Central Asia is today facing a twofold challenge. Firstly, the challenge of continued partnership with NATO, resistance to which has become a key feature of Russia’s global posture in general and its policies during the Ukrainian crisis in particular,” the report concludes. “Secondly, the challenge of rebooting a regional cooperation format, given the fundamental crisis of the CIS. In the new circumstances, Tashkent could take the lead in reinvigorating the 23-year-old idea of regional integration. […] The Crimea crisis will have profound geopolitical implications for Central Asia, where the events are understood as the expression of a new rise in Russia’s neo-imperialism. Over time, Moscow can repair this image in the eyes of countries and peoples on Russia’s perimeter, but one thing has once again become obvious: Central Asians, while attempting to resolve regional issues and construct their common regional home should concentrate on finding regional solutions rather than seeking great power mediation. The CIS may be able to survive with only nine members but at least five of them – the states of Central Asia – now confront the existential question pertaining to the durability of their de jure sovereignty. The likelihood of future unilateral decisive actions by Moscow in the post-Soviet space, ignoring the interests of independent states on its perimeter, have strained Astana, Bishkek, Dushanbe, Tashkent and Ashgabat who have so far only expressed cautious positions. Recent developments should prompt them to restore their frozen regional integration structure and revitalise a region-building process.”

The overall intention looks all too clear. By staunchly turning the image of plain criminals into that of political heroes, the latter’s lawyers not only keep filling their own pockets with inceasing amounts of stolen money, but they also secure the funds and assets held by the culprits outside the former USSR and even inside it in the case of Ukraine and the three Baltic republics. Such “dirty assets” could well be used in future negotiations in order to force Russia and its allies to gain concessions in other domains – which regarding the European Commission and its American poker masters will come down to sheer piracy. But then, this is the very character of gunboat diplomacy, and whether cases like the one of Ablyazov in the end will be the west’s trump card or Pushkin’s Queen of Spades still remains to be seen…

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