Fugitive Kazakhstani oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov should be extradited to Russia or Ukraine to face charges of fraud and embezzlement, a French court ruled on January 9, effectively rejecting his argument that long-standing corruption charges are politically motivated.
The ruling deals a major blow to the flamboyant former banker. The court dismissed arguments from Ablyazov’s lawyers that sending him to Russia or Ukraine (both close allies of Kazakhstan) would endanger him and expose him to onward extradition to Kazakhstan, where they believe he would not face a fair trial.
The court ruled that Russia should be given priority for extradition over Ukraine, ITAR-TASS news agency reported. (Kazakhstan has also lodged an extradition bid for Ablyazov but has no extradition treaty with France.) Ablyazov’s lawyer immediately said he would appeal the ruling.
In the last five years Ablyazov has turned from successful billionaire businessman to fugitive, pursued across Europe by private detectives and arrested in a dramatic raid on a luxury mansion on the French Riviera last July.
The corruption charges against Ablyazov center on his management of BTA Bank, which he headed and – as he told EurasiaNet.org in a 2009 interview – owned through an undeclared stake. He fled Kazakhstan when the government forcibly nationalized the bank at the height of the global financial crisis. He denies wrongdoing.
Oil-rich Kazakhstan has embraced bling with open arms -- the capital Astana, with its dazzling silver-and-gold skyline, could even be described as bling personified at the state level.
For a country that enjoys flaunting its petrodollars, an ordinary elite-status golden credit card isn’t enough. Luckily for the oil-rich oligarch who wants to stand apart from the crowd, there’s now a gold card with a difference on offer in Kazakhstan: This one is made from the real thing, crafted out of solid gold and encrusted with 26 diamonds -- just to drive the point home that this card will fall only into the hands of the very, very rich.
Not for nothing is Visa billing its Infinite companion card as “the world’s first jewel-encrusted solid gold” card -- though who knew that people needed this glittery status symbol, being offered through Russia’s Sberbank branches in Kazakhstan, before now?
Lucky customers invited to own a gold card might wish to use it to snap up a few choice bits of bling at upmarket US department store Saks Fifth Avenue, which opened its doors in Almaty on September 30 amid much hype -- another sign that Kazakhstan has embraced luxury consumer consumption with alacrity.
The solid-gold card won’t be available to just anyone: Only the bank’s “top 100 customers” will be invited to own what one Visa executive calls a “coveted piece of luxury” and “the ultimate status symbol.”
In a move that has no doubt delighted some in Astana, London-based businessman Mukhtar Ablyazov has fallen foul of the British legal system in his long-running High Court battle with Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank.
On February 16 Judge Nigel Teare ordered Ablyazov be jailed for 22 months for contempt of court. He accused Ablyazov of “deliberate and brazen” deception in concealing assets he was ordered to disclose, including a house worth a million pounds on The Bishops Avenue, a swish London address nicknamed “billionaires’ row.”
Ablyazov is being sued in the London High Court by BTA Bank, the financial institution he chaired and owned through undeclared holdings until the state forcibly nationalized it in 2009.
BTA alleges Ablyazov has defrauded it of $5 billion, a charge he denies.
In a telephone interview with EurasiaNet.org in January, Ablyazov said BTA – which recently defaulted on its bonds – was being used by the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev as “a tool of political pressure on me.”
Ablyazov’s defense team concedes that Ablyazov has in the past concealed holdings through offshore firms to protect his business interests from the authorities in Kazakhstan, where they say the rule of law does not apply.