Mukhtar Ablyazov’s killing fields in cyberspace/II

While courts and state officials in various parts of the world remain convinced that the Kazakh and indeed global champion white-collar crook Mukhtar Ablyazov is just that, lobbies operating under misleading labels presumed to be paid for it from stolen money belonging to Ablyazov’s main victim Bank BTA are terrorising the cyberspace hacking into and deleting sites on which the voice of justice can be heard. 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. But it goes further than that:

BY CHARLES VAN DER LEEUW, WRITER, NEWS ANALYST

Mukhtar Ablyazov’s killing fields in cyberspace/IIThe war-of-words in France took off early in the year, following a reversal in appeal of an earlier court ruling allowing the government to extradite Ablyazov either to Russia or to Ukraine. The appeal ruling was due to a mere formality, namely that Ablyazov had not signed a written objection to his extradition and proceedings should correct that failure. But the entire affair was blown up in an open letter [https://www.facebook.com/notes/mukhtar-ablyazov/aix-en-provence-prosecutor-and-court-admit-errors-in-ablyazov-extradition-decisi/422853817849184] posted on Facebook in the middle of March by the culprit’s lawyers Jean-Pierre Mignard and Peter Sahlas.

“Aix-en-Provence prosecutor Solange Legras has admitted that judicial errors undermine the twin court decisions of January 9, 2014 that approved the extradition of Kazakh political opponent and former BTA Bank owner and chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov,” the text was to read. “An Aix-en-Provence court had responded favorably to extradition requests from Russia and Ukraine, giving priority to the Russian request. Even though Ablyazov’s case is now at the Cassation Court in Paris, Legras has asked that a new hearing be held on February 27, 2014 at the court in Aix-en-Provence, so that the judicial errors can be corrected. Ablyazov’s defense asserted that the Aix-en-Provence court should reject the prosecutor’s request to amend the decisions; if not, the judges will appear to be acting collusively with the prosecutor to correct the flaws in the documents to ensure their decisions to extradite Ablyazov withstand the scrutiny of the Cassation Court. […] The lawyers emphasized that the allegations the trio of ex-Soviet countries are making against Ablyazov all flow from the harsh and unlawful 2009 nationalization of BTA Bank by the corrupt Kazakh regime. The nationalization sought to eliminate Ablyazov’s financial base as the leading opponent of the regime, and to prevent Ablyazov from triggering a contagion of political opposition in former Soviet republics. Prosecutor Legras ordered Ablyazov’s arrest in the south of France in July 2013. […] She later worked closely with French lawyers appointed by the corrupt and murderous Ukrainian regime to mount a case against Ablyazov that sought to whitewash Kazakhstan’s illegal nationalization of BTA Bank in 2009 and expropriation of its assets. The nationalisation of BTA Bank inflicted grave human rights abuses on scores of people and their families, with innocents rounded up, tortured and jailed.” Not a single sheet of documentation proving such allegations has been provided by the lawyers…

To counterweigh such verbal bombardments, BTA tries to keep things as cool as it can. “Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank welcomes a French court ruling on BTA Bank’s ex-head Mukhtar Ablyazov’s extradition,” Interfax reported on January 9 this year referring to the bank’s press office [http://www.interfax.kz/?lang=eng&int_id=expert_opinions&news_id=6567]. “This is the key ruling for the bank in its efforts to recover the assets worth $6 billion, which were unlawfully misappropriated by Ablyazov during his tenure as chairman of the board of directors of the bank. Earlier on Thursday the court of appeal in the city of Aix-en-Provence in southern France met a request from the French Prosecutor’s Office to extradite Ablyazov to Russia or Ukraine. The court said Russia should take priority. The extradition will significantly restrain Ablyazov’s ability to keep “laundering” money obtained through unlawful activity, it points out once again that Ablyazov’s repeated attempts to show himself as a person whose prosecution is politically motivated are groundless; he is only to be brought to justice for billions of dollars, embezzled from BTA Bank and its creditors, London-based BTA Bank’s legal advisor, firm HoganLovells, said. Today’s court ruling proves the competence of the law enforcement agencies of Russia and Ukraine demanding Ablyazov’s extradition and the correctness of demands, initiated by BTA Bank with regard to Ablyazov and a French judge regards the accusations against Ablyazov as serious enough to validate his extradition, BTA Bank’s legal adviser in France Antony Levy said. Now it does not matter whether Ablyazov is going to appeal against the court ruling because such an appeal may not have an impact on his extradition or on the criminal case against him in connection with embezzling billions from the bank.”

Another part of Ablyazov’s campaign to obstruct justice in Ukraine while the outlook regarding his eventual extradition remains dim, came out in the form of a petition dated May 26 this year [maidan24.eu/…/yd2305142_22052014_заява-щодо-біженців_-eng-] and addressed to the General Prosecutor of Ukraine Oleg Makhnitskiy, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, the Head of the SSU Valentin Nalyvaychenko and Justice Minister Pavel Petrenko. The signatories were Lyudmyla Kozlovska, President of the Open Dialog Foundation (Poland) Alexandra Matviychuk, President of the Board of the Centre For Civil Liberties (Ukraine) and Arkadiy Bushchenko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union – as they identified themselves. Reading through it, one can only conclude that the petition is little more than a veiled attempt to get Ablyazov off the hook under the guise of his alleged role as a Kazak “opposition leader” – which he never was and never will be.

The letter is a weird mix of false arguments and legal humbug. “In late March 2014, representatives of the civil society addressed a statement to the head of the SSU, the Interior Ministry and the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine with a number of demands, in particular: offer a formal apology and carry out an investigation with regard to the cases of refugees, affected by the actions of Ukraine, and their families; withdraw the request, filed with Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant for Kazakh opposition leader, Mukhtar Ablyazov, and persons involved in his case; cease cooperation with the secret services of Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and other authoritarian regimes (in particular, post-Soviet) with regards to the prosecution, kidnapping and rendering of political opponents and refugees,” the petition reads. “In particular, we would like to inquire about the planned participation of members of this structure in the court hearing in the case of Mukhtar Ablyazov on 26 May, 2014 in Lyon (France). According to mass media reports, the services of private law firms in the case of M. Ablyazov are financed by BTA Bank, and not the General Prosecutor’s Office at the expense of the state budget. This indicates that the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine has violated and is violating the Law ‘On Principles of Prevention and Combating Corruption’ and the Law ‘On Prosecutor’s Office’. In particular, in accordance with Article 5 of the Law ‘On Prosecutor’s Office’, it should represent the interests of the state in the courts, and Article 52 of the same law states that ‘financing for state bodies shall come from the state budget.’ We are concerned over the ongoing cooperation between the Ukrainian authorities and lobby groups of countries with dictatorial regimes, as well as the use of funds of commercial structures for the work of investigation agencies. Such cooperation contravenes the laws of Ukraine and poses a threat to national security and the international image of Ukraine.”

In a recent publication [http://en.odfoundation.eu/a/4393,urgent-negative-internet-campaign-against-mukhtar-ablyazov] the aforementioned Open Dialog Foundation launched rather an open monologue in a frantic attempt to thwart all attempts to bring the culprit to justice and get the stolen funds and assets back to their rightful owners. The false image of Ablyazov given by his agents goes together with a campaign of slander against all who demand justice. “According to the Open Dialog Foundation, an internet campaign has been launched against Mukhtar Ablyazov, the Kazakh dissident who is the chief opponent of Kazakhstan’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev,” the post reads. “Currently, Ablyazov is being detained in Corbas Cedex, France where proceedings are pending for his extradition. Since July, on French websites, a negative campaign aimed at discrediting the oppositionist has been ongoing. The Foundation has reasons to believe that it is the Kazakh authorities who are behind the campaign. False information about Ablyazov first started to appear at the beginning of July 2014 on rarely visited blogs and websites where the oppositionist was compared to Bernard Madoff, the US financier sentenced to 150 years in prison for setting up a financial pyramid which led to losses suffered by thousands of private investors, organisations and banks. Initially, the information was being posted only occasionally and the quality of the written reports was poor, but since August, the campaign has accelerated. Now, when searching for “Ablyazov” in the Google search engine, false information about him is brought back by the google searchbot. A short video in the French language also appears in the search results; a video which throws bad light on the Kazakh oppositionist. The material was based on manipulated press headlines about the dissident’s arrest. A petition was also made available calling for his extradition.”

Among the “websites which replicate false information about Ablyazov”, according to the ODF, are Petition on the “Change.org” platform, “calling for extradition of the Kazakh dissident (already removed),” in the organisation’s words, “The petition created on 25.07.2014 to extradite Mukhtar Ablyazov was signed by 1014 users. For the past two weeks, the positioning of the petition in the Google search results has improved considerably, moving up from page three to page one. Immediately before it had been deleted by the administrator, the petition was displayed to French internet users as the third search result. Also on the “Change.org” platform, a petition is available to defend Ablyazov, set up by his son, Madiyar Ablyazov on 6.09.2013. There are 2.848 signatures below it. The Foundation encourages support for this cause. moukhtarabliazov.brandyourself.com (website has already been deleted) The portal has developed a profile of Mukhtar Ablyazov where the dissident is labelled a “cheater” and calls for people to sign the petition.”

One more site targeted by the agents of Ablyazov and associates is one called Blog lesblogsdeplon.fr. “The blog gives the false information that Ablyazov was allegedly “imprisoned as a result of embezzling 5 billion euro,” the ODF claims. “The author relies on, amongst others, Antoine Levy (lawyer of BTA Bank), Solange Legras (prosecutor from Aix-en-Provence) and Interpol authorities. The blog also provides a link to the petition. In one of its reports, the Foundation communicated the results of the journalists’ investigation concerning Ablyazov’s trial, published in February 2014 on Trust.ua, which demonstrated close cooperation between the prosecutor and the lawyers working for the dissident’s extradition, including A. Levy. The matter was widely commented upon by French media too.”

Among the sites hacked and destroyed by the ODF is one called Microblog platform Tumblr – abliazov.tumblr.com. Furthermore, under attack is the blog “Prawda o Mukhtarze Ablyazovie” (Truth about Mukhtar Ablyazov) which in the ODF’s words “…has published a two-minute video depicting Ablyazov as a criminal, active in the international arena. The information on the website is based on manipulated press headlines which provided information on, inter alia, the dissident’s arrest and the judgment of the court of appeals of Aix-en-Provence. The blog also provided links to petitions and other websites which replicate false information (such as, for instance, fondationdemeurehistorique.fr, lesblogsdeplon.fr). The same video was also published on lederniermaitredelair.fr, with a link to the petition too.”

Yet one more site “already removed” by the hackers is fr.slideshare.net/moukhtarabliazov. “One of the accounts set up on slideshare.net provides infographics portraying Ablyazov as a criminal,” the ODF claims – ironically ignoring that this is just what he is. Concerning the site

banksterleaks.com, the ODF claims: “The authors assert that their aim is to “communicate and disclose to the general public information and documents evidencing the offences perpetrated by bankers and cheaters”. Most of the articles are devoted to Ablyazov even though some mention B. Madoff – most likely to make the website appear authentic, and to put the Kazakh dissident on a par with the financial swindler.” Finally, the websites moukhtarabliazov.fr and okhy.com/buffer/index.asp?web=moukhtarabliazov.fr “…provide false information about Ablyazov, and their authors also call for the oppositionist’s extradition,” in the ODF’s words.

Response to such actions looks rather disappointing for those carrying them out. In an earlier cyber-battle in which Ablyazov sought to discredit one of Kazakhstan’s elite’s most prominent figureheads Timur Kulibayev, the American embassy in Astana made a pretty fair judgement of the then still fugitive robber baron’s “political” ammunition. “The source of the offending story was a letter to media outlets from Mukhtar Ablyazov, the ousted and self-exiled chairman of the Bank Turam Alem (BTA) bank who fled the country following accusations of embezzlement and financial fraud,” a Wikileaks posting [http://www.wikileaks-forum.com/kazakhstan/365/ablyazov-in-the-wikileaks-cables/21255/] dated August 3 last year.  “In the letter, Ablyazov accused Kulibayev of pocketing a portion of the proceeds from the sale of a government stake in a Kazakhstani oil company to the China National Petroleum Company (ref B) in 2003. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Ablyazov has documents proving Kulibayev’s illegal machinations.  Ablyazov’s accusations appeared in the media at the same time as a story that Dinara Kulibayeva, Kulibayev’s wife and Nazarbayev’s daughter, bought a luxurious villa in Switzerland for a record 74 million Swiss franc.” This sheds a suspect light on the American security services’ media outlet as a tool in building up Ablyazov’s false image as a political “leader” and martyr – none of which he ever was or will be. Initially, local media who had published Ablyazov’s insinuations got rather severe sentences following Kulibayev’s legal action. The sentences were later reversed in appeal as the higher court considered that they should not be victimised in attempts by Ablyazov to poison the fledgling regime of freedom of opinion in Kazakhstan.

The American Embassy in its report, however, appears to have taken a distance from its country’s “Free” wireless. “Meanwhile, Ablyazov continued his campaign against Kulibayev,” the report posted on Wikileaks read further down.  On February 8, he announced that he sent proof of Kulibayev’s embezzlement to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the parliament, and political parties.  He also claimed to have sent letters to several leading businessmen in Kazakhstan urging them to share any information on Kulibayev’s wrong-doings, and publicized an email address to which people could send complaints against Kulibayev.  Activists of the Alga opposition party — widely believed to be financed by Ablyazov — made several attempts to publicly deliver Ablyazov’s letter to the parliament in Astana.  On two separate occasions, the group was detained by the police for organizing an unsanctioned rally.  On February 11, Kazakhstan’s State Agency for Fighting Economic and Corruption Crimes (Financial Police) announced that it received Ablyazov’s letter and launched an investigation into the case.”

Nevertheless, the American diplomats appeared to find it tempting to look for a broader conspiracy theory behind Ablyazov’s actions. “Ablyazov’s allegations have started a flurry of guessing games about the state of play in the power games among the Kazakhstani elite,” a comment by the Embassy at the end of the cable read. “Most independent political analysts agree that Ablyazov must have received the incriminating evidence from a third party — either Rakhat Aliyev, Nazarbayev’s exiled former son-in-law, or someone high enough in Kazakhstan’s power echelons to have access to this kind of information.  Some allege that Ablyazov is the front man for interests in the oil industry that want to diminish Kulibayev’s far-reaching influence in the energy sector.  Others speculate that this is a power play from one of the rival political clans.  All agree, however, that this case is all about power and control.  It is also an important test of freedom of expression in Kazakhstan.  The fact that the court rescinded its gag-order is a positive sign, and here the strong statement from OSCE’s Haraszti certainly played a role.  However, as civil society activists point out, the judge’s ruling leaves open the possibility for Kulibayev to take further legal action if the newspapers refuse to print a retraction.  We will continue to watch closely how these power games play out.”

None of these speculations, however, have in the end materialised. This, however, did not mean the end of the “information war” as a later cable from the American Embassy to its home base [http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/08/09ASTANA1439.html] was to read: In an interview in the widely read daily Liter headlined ‘Yertysbayev: An Information War Has Been Declared Against Kazakhstan,” Yertysbayev described the situation in the country as generally stable but claimed that that the nation’s rivals, the ‘runaway billionaires’ — presumably the former Bank Turan Alem (BTA) Chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov and the President’s former son-in-law, Rakhat Aliyev — have begun an ‘information war’ designed to disgrace Kazakhstan in advance of its 2010 OSCE chairmanship. ‘For three months, public opinion has been indoctrinated to discredit Kazakhstan in the eyes of the world community,’ he asserted. He railed against the opposition press for comparing the government’s anti-corruption investigations with Stalin’s repressions of 1937. The fight against corruption is a legitimate attempt to weed out dishonest government officials and lessen the ‘corruption tax’ on citizens in times of economic crisis, he asserted. Yertysbayev also ascribed the growing rumors about making President Nazarbayev President-for-life, which have appeared almost exclusively in opposition media, to this ‘anti-government’ information campaign. He categorically denied that such a project is in the works and generally advised Liter readers to stop paying heed to ‘mass hallucinations’ and trust government sources… “

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