France’s prime minister has ruled that a Kazakhstani oligarch who has been fighting a mammoth extradition battle with the French justice system for two years should be handed over to Russia to face fraud charges.
The ruling deals Mukhtar Ablyazov a major setback in his battle not to be extradited to a state that might then hand him over to his home country of Kazakhstan, which he says is pursuing him for political reasons.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls signed the extradition order on September 17. Ablyazov’s lawyer Peter Sahlas told AFP on October 12 that his client was informed of the decision last week.
Ablyazov will contest the ruling at the Conseil d’Etat, France’s supreme court of appeals in administrative cases, Sahlas said.
If he loses, he will be handed over to Russia to face charges of fraud and embezzlement in a convoluted case brought against him by Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, which charges that he stole at least $6 billion from the financial institution, which he once ran and owned through an undeclared stake.
Ablyazov has always contested that the case was politically motivated, spearheaded behind the scenes by the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev because of Ablyazov’s support for the opposition.
However, a judgment in a related trial found that Ablyazov had orchestrated or authorized false loans at BTA Bank, and Ablyazov was debarred from fighting the case in a High Court ruling that accused him of “cynicism, opportunism and deviousness towards court orders.”
Ablyazov fled the UK – where he had been granted political asylum – in 2012 after a judge ordered him jailed for contempt of court after finding he had lied about his assets.
In 2013, he was arrested after a swoop on a mansion on the French Riviera, to which he was tracked by private detectives hired by BTA Bank who followed his lawyer – and reported lover – there from the steps of the London High Court.
BTA “applauds the Prime Minister’s decision as a crucial step towards forcing Mr Ablyazov to face justice for the billions of dollars that he stole from the Bank,” the bank said in a statement e-mailed to EurasiaNet.org.
Ablyazov’s lawyers have always contended that sending him to Russia (a close ally of Kazakhstan) would expose him to onward extradition to Kazakhstan, where they believe he would not face a fair trial.
Human rights campaigners agree. In May, Human Rights Watch sent the French prime minister a letter urging him to decline the extradition request since “under international and European human rights law, France has the absolute obligation not to return Mr. Ablyazov to Kazakhstan where he faces grave risk of ill-treatment and a flagrant denial of his fair trial and other due process rights."