Orbán to make another Safarov-like extradition deal?

Orbán to make another Safarov-like extradition deal?

According to the Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF), a Poland-based rights group, the Hungarian government could be gearing up for yet another unscrupulous extradition deal with an authoritarian regime: that of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s mineral-rich Kazakhstan.

Yerzhan Kadesov, a former employee of Kazakhstan’s largest bank BTA Bank, has been living in Budapest since 2012. He and his family left Kazakhstan in 2009 in the fallout of a “long-standing political conflict” between the country’s dictator, President Nazarbayev, and Mukhtar Ablyazov, the former head of BTA Bank. Fearing falling into the crosshairs of Nazarbayev, Kadesov first moved to Ukraine, where he and his family received citizenship, before moving to Hungary out of fear that pro-Kremlin President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych would send him back to Kazakhstan.

Kadesov is now wanted for extradition by the Kazakh government to provide testimony against Ablyazov, and Hungary is reportedly considering it.

According to ODF, the conflict began with President Nazarbayev’s desire to nationalize the BTA Bank, and Ablyazov’s opposition to the move, as well as his position as an opposition figure.

Since successfully nationalizing the bank in 2009, the Kazakh government has accused Ablyazov of embezzling billion of dollars, and has been on the hunt for the bank’s former employees and managers. According to ODF, the Kazakh government wants to “force” the former employees to provide false testimony against Ablyazov.

The ODF says Zhaksylyk Zharimbetov, Kadesov’s former supervisor at BTA, had been enjoying refugee status in Turkey until being captured by Kazakh special services (working together with their Turkish counterparts). The rights group says that Zharimbetov was in detention for ten days before he began to “actively cooperate with the investigative bodies.”

Based on Zharimbetov’s testimony, Kazakh courts sentenced Ablyazov to 20 years in prison.

ODF says the EU has refused to extradite other individuals tied to the BTA Bank case. Such extradition requests have been issued by Ukraine, Russia, and Kazakhstan.

According to ODF, Kadesov has been detained in Hungary since early 2015 as the result of an INTERPOL arrest warrant. Since then, he has been held under extradition arrest.

The rights group says that while detained in Hungary, Kadesov has been visited by a representative of the Kazakhstan prosecutor’s office and a Kazakh diplomat. According to ODF, the two men demanded that Kadesov testify against Ablyazov.

“The visit by representatives of Kazakhstan was unlawful as, at that time, Mr Kadesov was seeking political asylum from the authorities of Kazakhstan,” ODF writes.

Although Kadesov has remained lawfully in Hungary for several years, the Constitutional Protection Office announced in April 2017 that he poses a threat to the national security of Hungary.

According to ODF, which cites a statement from Kadesov’s wife, he received a phone call from Zharimbetov (his former supervisor who was kidnapped in Turkey and taken back to Kazakhstan) on June 14, 2017.

“[Zharimbetov] denied that he had been kidnapped,” ODF writes. “He stated that he found himself in Kazakhstan, as ‘it was written in the stars’. Mr Zharimbetov began to broadcast the propaganda of the Kazakhstani authorities, which is disseminated with the aim of blackening Mr Ablyazov’s reputation. For example, Mr Zharimbetov labels Mr Ablyazov ‘vain’, ‘obsessed with power’, ‘not a patriot’, etc.

“According to Mr Kadesov’s wife, during the telephone conversation, Mr Zharimbetov suggested that Mr Kadesov ‘voluntarily agree to extradition’. Also, Mr Zharimbetov promised Mr Kadesov that in Kazakhstan, he ‘would be given guarantees of protection’ in exchange for confirming all of Mr Zharimbetov’s testimonies against Mr Ablyazov.”

After that phone call, Kadesov agreed to voluntary extradition to Kazakhstan.

The ODF writes that if Hungary turns a blind eye to facts surrounding Kadesov’s case, “this will be tantamount to its direct cooperation with the authoritarian regime of Kazakhstan in its implementation of a political prosecution.”

According to the ODF, “there is reason to believe that Kazakhstan is influencing the Hungarian authorities in the case of Mr Kadesov.”

Citing the Ramil Safarov scandal of 2012, the rights group is calling on the international community to closely monitor Kadesov’s case on grounds that it might be “the next case in which Hungary, guided by its economic or other interests, might extradite a person to an authoritarian state, ignoring the political context of the request for extradition.”

Index.hu reports that Hungary’s Ministry of the Interior has not yet responded to press inquiries regarding the matter sent one month ago. According to Index.hu’s sources, the Hungarian government is dealing with the Kadesov affair on the ministerial level.

What was the Safarov extradition deal?

In 2004, Azerbaijani army officer Ramil Safarov murdered Armenian army lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan in Budapest. The two were in Hungary participating in a NATO-sponsored language program.

One night, Safarov walked into Margaryan’s dormitory and hacked him to death with an axe. Safarov was convicted of murder in 2006 and sentenced to life imprisonment. Safarov’s lawyers lost an appeal one year later.

In 2012, the Orbán government allowed Safarov to be extradited to Azerbaijan. Upon arriving in Azerbaijan, Safarov received a pardon from President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, was declared a national hero, and received a promotion.

The Orbán government’s move to extradite Safarov generated outcry from Hungarians, foreign governments, and rights groups around the world, and prompted the Armenian government to cut diplomatic ties with Hungary.

Hungary’s extradition of Safarov to Azerbaijan – despite the severity of the crime committed and the known hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia – left many wondering what Hungary’s motivation was. Unsubstantiated rumors abound that a nefarious deal had been worked out between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán for the repatriation of Ramil Safarov.

Diplomatic ties between Hungary and Azerbaijan have not suffered. In fact, just last week, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó hosted Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov in Budapest as part of a bilateral meeting to drum up EU support for the Southern Gas Corridor, a pipeline fueled by Azerbaijani gas.

Szijjártó used his meeting with Mammadyarov to laud increasingly intensive Hungarian-Azerbaijani economic relations, which, according to the Hungarian foreign minister, are evidenced by the Hungarian pharmaceutical products now sold in Azerbaijan and increased cargo flights between Baku and Budapest.

BY BENJAMIN NOVAK, The Budapest Beacon