London-based Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov has suffered a setback in his British court battle with BTA Bank, the financial institution he once owned in Kazakhstan before he was ousted as chairman and the bank was forcibly nationalized in 2009. The latest High Court ruling allowing BTA to pursue its fraud case against Ablyazov will be welcomed by the bank, and perhaps also behind the scenes by President Nursultan Nazarbayev: Ablyazov, now his implacable foe, has fired off a stream of damaging allegations against the president and his son-in-law Timur Kulibayev since moving to London in 2009.
The High Court ruled on May 10 against Ablyazov’s bid to stay BTA’s $4 billion fraud case against him, clearing the way for the bank to continue proceedings.
Ablyazov had attempted to stay the proceedings on the grounds that “the actions have been brought to assist the President of Kazakhstan in his scheme to eliminate Mr. Ablyazov as a political opponent,” the judgment said. The judge dismissed the bid, ruling that the allegation was untested and BTA has a legitimate interest in pursuing the case.
The judge found the “tsunami of evidence” for a political motivation offered by Ablyazov – who denies any wrongdoing – to be circumstantial, based on Ablyazov’s contentions about “the widespread power and influence of the President in a totalitarian state” and “the alleged (but as yet unchallenged) history of the President's antagonism towards Mr. Ablyazov.”
Ablyazov was involved in setting up a reform movement in 2001, then served a prison term in Kazakhstan from 2002-2003 on corruption charges that he says were politically motivated. He subsequently rebuilt his business career, becoming chairman of BTA in 2005 and then facing fresh troubles in 2009.
“Ablyazov maintains that the bank was nationalized purely for political reasons, as the bank was financially sound at the time,” Locksley Ryan of RLF Partnership, which represents Ablyazov, told EurasiaNet.org by telephone from London after the ruling.
The judge accepted that BTA has a legitimate argument that it was nationalized due to the global financial crisis, and a legitimate reason to pursue the case. It is “contractually obliged” to recover assets, the judgment pointed out: According to its restructuring deal, creditors are also entitled to a share in recovered assets.
The crux of the court ruling was not to reject the contention of a political motivation – the judgment said the evidence was untested – but to allow BTA to pursue a case in which the court said it had a legitimate interest.
That point appeared lost on state news agency Kazinform, which gleefully reported that “the favorite approach of criminals of all types and dimensions – fleeing to Europe and complaining of persecution for political motivations – is ceasing to work.” In its delight, Kazinform apparently forgot that Ablyazov is innocent until proven guilty – whether in London or Kazakhstan.