Mukhtar Ablyazov’s killing fields in cyberspace/I

At first sight, the entire affair looks remote from reality, on the brink of ludicrous. But putting two and two together, it is becoming clear that Ablyazov’s confrontation with the French justice system is being fought out with weapons quite different from those used at the Royal Court of England and Wales on yonder side of the Channel. With the culprit jailed pending eventual extradition originally to Ukraine with now the Russian Federation being on top of the list, lawyers on behalf of Ablyazov are using methods fair and (mostly) foul to undermine judicial proceedings dealing with the core of the matter at stake. By “seeking criminal investigation of judges believed to have used secret documents to write decisions in favour of [Ablyazov’s] extradition to Russia or Ukraine”, the attorneys appear to have stolen confidential communication between France’s chief prosecutor and the Russian authorities and between the former and legal representatives of the main victim of Ablyazov’s criminal schemes – namely Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, now in the process of being merged into its new majority owner and former rival Kazkommertsbank, with the latter taking over all responsibilities from BTA in attempts to bring the culprit to justice and return the vicitimised party its stolen funds and assets.

BY CHARLES VAN DER LEEUW, WRITER, NEWS ANALYST

Mukhtar Ablyazov’s killing fields in cyberspace/IOver the summer holidays this year, a number of most bizarre judicial proceedings in France are poised to accompany the fresh verdict to be proclaimed, on September 25, by a court concerning the extradition of former banker and master-white-collar bandit from Kazakhstan Mukhtar Ablyazov primarily to the Russian Federation and eventually to war-torn Ukraine. The ruling, whatever it will be, is bound to be appealed against either by legal representatives of both demanding countries and the victim, BTA Bank of Kazakhstan, or by lawyers on behalf of the culprit. In March this year, it appeared that communications between the French chief prosecutor Solange Legras and the three parties opposed to Ablyazov had been hacked by agents in the latter’s service and posted on a Ukrainian website advocating the Kazakh “oppositionist”’s innocence and his image as a victim of “political” persecution – a claim long dismissed by English courts of law and lately by French courts and prosecutors and their Russian counterparts as well.

Lawyer Guillaume-Denis Faure, a partner in the Paris office of Winston & Strawn who is among those whose SMS messages and e-mails were hacked, has filed a complaint “against X” – meaning perpetrator unknown – for the theft. The case is expected to proceed over summer, parallel to the case over Ablyazov’s extradition proper – the first ruling of which has been scheduled for September 25. But that is not all. For meanwhile, Ablyazov’s lawyers have filed yet another complaint in an attempt to nail the French justice system itself, using the hacked material posted little later after their theft in December last year and January this year as “proof” – thereby, ironically, casting the spotlight on themselves and their client as the ones behind the communication theft.

“Lawyers of Kazakh political opponent Mukhtar Ablyazov have announced they are filing a criminal complaint against Aix-en-Provence judges who appear to have unlawfully conspired to approve his extradition to Russia or Ukraine,” the team’s leader maître Bruno Rebstock wrote in a press release [https://www.facebook.com/notes/mukhtar-ablyazov/aix-en-provence-court-judges-hit-with-complaint-for-criminal-abuse-of-authority/477382959062936] posted on Facebook on July 10. The complaint follows ongoing leakages in Ukraine of e-mails and documents that have come to light after the collapse of the regime of Viktor Yanukovich. The leakages include French court documents that show that prior to the Ablyazov extradition hearing in Aix-en-Provence on December 12, 2013, local prosecutor Solange Legras secretly submitted documents to the judges who were to decide on the extradition. Representatives of Russia and Ukraine had given these documents to the local prosecutor. The documents contained severe inaccuracies and misinformation. Ablyazov never had an opportunity to challenge any of these documents in court. The judges used these documents in deciding in favor of Ablyazov’s extradition to Russia or Ukraine. Twin court decisions issued by the Aix-en-Provence court on January 9, 2014 gave priority to the Russian extradition request. On April 9, 2014, France’s Cassation Court annulled the Aix-en-Provence court’s extradition judgments. The Cassation Court censured the Aix-en-Provence court for accepting and using one document illegally submitted by lawyers acting for Ukraine, but at the time of the Cassation Court’s deliberations the full extent of the Aix-en-Provence court’s reliance on secretly submitted documents was unknown.”

As shall be demonstrated further below, the entire affair with lawyers trying to nail a court of law following a verdict little to their liking looks like a hoax, or at least a hilarious attempt to distract attention from the plain facts altogether. “The gravity of the stakes for Ablyazov, who has already been detained for almost one year pending his extradition hearings, make any finding of criminal abuse of authority committed by the Aix-en-Provence judges particularly serious,” Rebstock’s propaganda piece read further down. “In recent months a four-part series of articles on the corruption behind the Ablyazov extradition proceedings has been published on the Ukrainian website trust.ua, including the revelations from the Aix-en-Provence Court. On April 9, 2014, Ablyazov’s French lawyers, led by Jean-Pierre Mignard, announced they had submitted a complaint to the French Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, concerning the revelations. In their complaint to the Minister, the lawyers demanded that France’s Inspectorate General of Judicial Services launch an investigation into apparent “multiple, grave and repeated breaches” of due process as well as violations of professional ethics by the judges and prosecutor in Aix-en-Provence. The lawyers called into question whether Ablyazov, his lawyers or the French Republic itself should continue to have faith in the Aix-en-Provence judges and prosecutor or in the legitimacy of the court’s processes. […] Trust.ua also published extensive documentation showing that the Ukrainian extradition request targeting Ablyazov was fabricated by representatives of Kazakhstan’s nationalized BTA Bank in collusion with a Ukrainian investigator. This collusion appears to have included the falsification of documents and payment of bribes.”

Not just the judges mentioned in the press release are targeted, but first and foremost the outspoken chief prosecutor Solange Legras, who in December last year, echoing earlier verdicts by English courts of law, dismissed all Ablyazov’s “political” claims and qualified the accused as “just a scoundrel”.  “AFP reported […] that the scandal flared up over text messages and emails between [Solange] Legras and Ukrainian attorneys posted on a Ukrainian website in late March,” the Russian legal newsreel RAPSI [http://rapsinews.com/judicial_news/20140430/271237357.html] reported on April 30 this year. “The website also published extensive documentation that appears to prove that Ukraine’s extradition request targeting Ablyazov was fabricated by representatives of BTA Bank in collusion with a Ukrainian investigator. Commenting on this in early April, Ms. Legras said the hacking of her site was an outrage and an attempt to intimidate French justice that could only benefit one person, Ablyazov. The ex-banker’s defense team filed a complaint with Marseille investigators saying that these remarks were unacceptable and damaging to their client’s dignity. Kazakhstan is seeking the extradition of Ablyazov, who fled to the UK after the Kazakh government acquired a stake in BTA in 2009 and the bank came under the control of its sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna. Ablyazov was granted political asylum in Britain in 2011. Ablyazov was detained on July 31, 2013 near Cannes, France. Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine are all seeking the extradition of the fugitive banker. In early January 2014, a court in France’s Aix-en-Provence ruled to extradite him to Russia or Ukraine, with the priority given to Russia. Ablyazov and his supporters claim that he is being persecuted for political reasons. On April 9, 2014, the criminal chamber of Paris’s Cours de Cassation, the court of final appeal for civil and criminal cases in France, ruled to block Ablyazov’s extradition because of an administrative error by the court. Specifically, the ex-banker had not signed the official protocol as required.”

The “protocol” affirms that the person under question objects to his extradition – if not, the entire proceedings would be futile. This done, however, the proceedings have to start all over again. Legal and state representatives from both Ukraine and the Russian Federation have been officially admitted to all court sessions over the issue, RAPSI wrote in a follow-up report [http://rapsinews.com/judicial_news/20140603/271463848.html] published on June 3. “The investigative chamber of the Lyon Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that Russia and Ukraine can send their representatives to the trial of former banker Mukhtar Ablyazov, whose extradition the two countries have requested,” the report, referring to Agence France Presse, was to read. “The trial, which was scheduled for June 12, has been postponed until September at the earliest. The court ruling reads that the representatives of Russia and Ukraine can take the floor during the trial, but will not be allowed to read the case materials or add anything to them.” “Taking the floor” also includes the right for Ukrainian and Russian parties and their representatives to submit input in writing – which is exactly what they have done as the “scandal” reveals.

Talking to European Dialogue [http://eurodialogue.eu/The-extradition-is-quite-reasonable-solution] on February 28 this year, the Head of the International Cooperation Department for Major Cases of Russian General Prosecutor’s Office Denis Grunis who is representing the Russian Federation in the case talked quite openly about his role in the affair. “Denis Grunis says that he gave a detailed explanation of the scheme that Ablyazov used to commit his crimes, that were pretty sophisticated and informed the French court about the findings and decisions of the Russian courts in regards to Ablyazov’s accomplices in Russia,” the report reaad. “’I have shown that there is no political motivation in the prosecution of Mukhtar Ablyazov,’ Grunis stresses adding that he assured the French court that ‘all the human rights and freedoms of Mr Ablyazov will be carefully observed after he is extradited to Russia.’ According to the prosecutor, that the French Court views Russia’s request to extradite the ex-Chairman of Kazakhstan-based BTA Bank Mukhtar Ablyazov as grounded and disagrees with the banker that the fraud cases are politically motivated. Denis Grunis says that he gave a detailed explanation of the scheme that Ablyazov used to commit his crimes, that were pretty sophisticated” and informed the French court about the findings and decisions of the Russian courts in regards to Ablyazov’s accomplices in Russia. ‘I have shown that there is no political motivation in the prosecution of Mukhtar Ablyazov,’ Grunis stresses adding that he assured the French court that ‘all the human rights and freedoms of Mr Ablyazov will be carefully observed after he is extradited to Russia.’  In the same hearing the General Advocate (Deputy Prosecutor General) of the French court of appeals confirmed that ‘the extradition request of the General Prosecutor’s Office of Russia is completely reasonable.’  She said that the doings Ablyazov is accused of by the Russian law enforcement authorities are considered serious crimes in France. She added that ‘…being a multi-billionaire Ablyazov could afford to buy anything he wanted, fund opposition political parties and create a committee of international human rights watchdogs to defend him, but he could not buy the French Justice,’ Grunis says about the hearing in France. After all these arguments ‘the French Court agreed that the request of the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office to extradite Mukhtar Ablyazov was justified’.”

Defence lawyers’ response on behalf of Ablyazov to the affair came to the verge of hysteria. “The former head of the Kazakh BTA Bank, Mukhtar Ablyazov, whose extradition case is being heard in France, has accused public prosecutor Solange Legras of slander,” RAPSI wrote [] on April 30, once more referring to AFP. “She said Ablyazov tried to influence the French court. AFP reported on Tuesday that the scandal flared up over text messages and emails between Legras and Ukrainian attorneys posted on a Ukrainian website in late March. The website also published extensive documentation that appears to prove that Ukraine’s extradition request targeting Ablyazov was fabricated by representatives of BTA Bank in collusion with a Ukrainian investigator. Commenting on this in early April, Ms. Legras said the hacking of her site was an outrage and an attempt to intimidate French justice that could only benefit one person, Ablyazov. The ex-banker’s defense team filed a complaint with Marseille investigators saying that these remarks were unacceptable and damaging to their client’s dignity.” With Russia remaining cool on the issue so far, the “Ukrainian connection”, as opposed, shows dimensions up to the size of a still functioning network under Ablyazov’s control to escape justice and keep the stolen cash and assets. (to be continued)

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