The fate of Kazakh dissident and fugitive Mukhtar Ablyazov was set to be on the agenda when French President Emmanuel Macron met his Kazakh counterpart this week.Le Figaro has reported that Ablyazov, who has been convicted of embezzling $7 billion from the bank he ran, could be a stumbling block as France and Kazakhstan seek to build closer ties against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev arrived at the Elysee Palace on November 28th fresh from election victory. The two leaders are expected to discuss the ongoing Ukraine conflict and Kazakhstan’s role in easing the growing energy crisis this winter.
However, Le Figaro reported that the “thorny issue” of Ablyazov’s political refugee status in France will also be up for discussion.
“At the heart of the relationship between France and Kazakhstan, a thorny legal issue will be at the center of the meeting at the Elysee Palace on Tuesday between Emmanuel Macron and Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who has just been re-elected president of Kazakhstan. It is that of the oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, today a political refugee in France,” the newspaper reported.
In 2009, Ablyazov fled from Kazakhstan to London after he was accused of orchestrating a sophisticated scheme to siphon off billions of dollars from BTA Bank.
According to the allegations, the former banker exploited his position as chairman of BTA to plunder billions of dollars by making hundreds of loans with offshore companies under his control.
In London, where he lived with his family in Carlton House, a £7.9 million mansion in north London, Ablyazov insisted the allegations were politically motivated and claimed he was the subject of numerous assassination attempts.
In 2011, two years after arriving in the UK from France, Ablyazov was granted political asylum. At the same time, after securing convictions against Ablyazov in Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine, BTA launched legal proceedings at the High Court in London.
Accused of “fraud and embezzlement on an almost unprecedented scale”, Ablyazov was handed a 22-month contempt of court jail sentence after hid his ownership of Carlton House and a 100-acre estate in Surrey called Oaklands Park.
In his February 2012 ruling, Mr Justice Teare described the contempt of court as “remarkable and brazen” while Lord Justice Kay was even more damning of Ablyazov. “It is difficult to imagine a party to commercial litigation who has acted with more cynicism, opportunism, and deviousness towards court orders than Mr Ablyazov,” he said.
In an apparent bid to avoid jail, Ablyazov fled the UK several days earlier on an overnight coach and vanished for more than a year. Investigators and police tracked him down to a luxury villa on the French Riviera in July 2013.
He was detained until December 2016 amid efforts to extradite him. But Ablyazov argued that his extradition would place him at risk of mistreatment and an unfair trial. In 2015, then-prime minister Manuel Valls signed off his extradition but in December 2016, France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, overruled.
A final decision from France’s asylum court is due in the next few months and is expected to draw a line under the matter. If the ruling goes against Ablyazov, he could be extradited back to the UK where his contempt of court sentence still stands.