Statement from Mukhtar Ablyazov's lawyers: Marathon extradition hearing in Aix-en-Provence
© 13.12.2013




Aix-en-Provence, December 12, 2013 — The Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence today was the scene of a marathon hearing as representatives of Ukraine and Russia joined forces asking France to extradite Kazakh political opponent and former bank chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov.

For the majority of the day, the Court heard lawyers and diplomatic representatives from Ukraine and Russia who sought to pin blame on Ablyazov for the effects of Kazakhstan’s violent and unlawful nationalization of BTA Bank in 2009. Both countries provided assurances that Ablyazov would be well treated in their respective countries if imprisoned there, and that they would not send him to Kazakhstan.

Ablyazov insisted that he is being pursued by Kiev and Moscow on behalf of Kazakhstan, and that the accusations against him are no more than an attempt to criminalize legitimate business transactions.

The public prosecutor of Aix-en-Provence, Solange Legras, was harshly criticized by Ablyazov’s defense for her “naivety”, having been duped by Ukraine and Russia into supporting extradition requests that were inextricably linked to the long-running political battle Ablyazov has fought against the dictatorship of his native Kazakhstan. In recent years, allies and associates of Ablyazov have been assassinated, imprisoned and driven into exile. In May 2013 Kazakh diplomats in Rome seized Ablyazov’s wife and six-year-old daughter and flew them to Kazakhstan on a private jet, where they remain hostages of the regime to this day. Ablyazov connected these events to the extradition requests emanating from Ukraine and Russia at the behest of Kazakhstan.

Legras dismissed the support that Ablyazov has received from numerous NGOs, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the FIDH and ACAT, citing his supposed “enormous wealth” that, she alleged, “enables him to purchase his supporters”. In response to press coverage in France that has described Ablyazov as the embattled political opponent of a notorious dictatorship, Legras stated that Ablyazov “buys articles for himself in Le Monde”, referring to a full-page profile that the highly respected newspaper published on October 21, 2013.

In a retort to these arguments, Ablyazov’s lawyer Bruno Rebstock cited the conclusions of UN human rights monitors and the UN Refugee Agency to support his case against extradition, and he wryly added: “I assure the Court that Mr. Ablyazov did not buy the United Nations.”

Legras asked the judges not to fear extraditing Ablyazov to Ukraine or Russia, stating: “Extradition is a tradition of cooperation between states, from the times of Ramses II in ancient Egypt to ancient China to the Byzantine era.” She denied that Ablyazov would not receive a fair trial or that he would be tortured in Ukraine or Russia, or sent on to Kazakhstan – risks meticulously argued and substantiated by the defense, to which she made no substantive reply. She refused to attribute any value to hundreds of damning judgments against Ukraine and Russia at the European Court of Human Rights, or to mountains of reports by international organizations and NGOs that paint a clear picture of the impossibility that Ablyazov would have to defend himself in a fair trial in either country, or to be safe from torture or re-extradition to Kazakhstan.

Jean-Pierre Mignard, a prominent French lawyer who pleaded alongside Rebstock in defense of Ablyazov, admonished the public prosecutor for evading the core issues relevant to Ablyazov’s extradition case: whether France could have any confidence whatsoever that he would be treated fairly if extradited to Ukraine or Russia, and whether his refugee status, granted by the United Kingdom in 2011, would protect him there from re-extradition to Kazakhstan.

After describing the risks of unfair trial and torture that Ablyazov faces if extradited by France, Mignard turned to the public prosecutor and stated: “Madame, you are a servant of the French people, not the servant of corrupt foreign powers masquerading as officers of justice. You have values and rights to defend. That is the expectation of the French people, and it is your constitutional duty.” Mignard noted that from 2009 to 2012 Ablyazov lived in London and British authorities never arrested him, even though Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine asked that he be arrested for extradition.

Turning to the panel of three judges, Mignard declared: “This Court is not here to rule on fraud allegations being bandied about by Mr. Ablyazov’s political opponents. The stakes today are not about alleged fraud. This is a battle over values and principles that are at the core of the French Republic. For the honor of our country, please do not extradite him. Do not drape French justice in shame!”

In the concluding remarks delivered at the hearing, Ablyazov explained the roots of his long battle for democratic change in Kazakhstan – a battle for which he has paid an enormous price, measured not only by unlawful expropriations of his assets but also by his loss of freedom and the murder and imprisonment of his associates and allies.

Ablyazov noted that the cabal of Russian investigators and judges handling the case against him have been blacklisted by the United States, with travel bans and asset freezes imposed on them due to their complicity in the 2009 death in pre-trial detention of 37-year-old anti-corruption whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky. Ablyazov cited the names of these officials, which appear in the extradition documents sent by Moscow to Paris.

Ablyazov’s lawyers blasted the fact, revealed to them only on December 4, 2013, that no valid Ukrainian arrest warrant actually existed for Ablyazov’s arrest in France. The Court in Aix-en-Provence stated it would rule on the validity of Ablyazov’s arrest only in January 2014, when rendering its judgment on his extradition.

The day’s proceedings were marked by the appearance of Parisian lawyers of the firm Winston & Strawn, who were permitted by the court to plead on behalf of Ukraine. For four months Ukraine had shown no interest in the proceedings; after a tardy request from Kiev, the Court on December 5, 2013 authorized Ukraine to have lawyers present to observe the proceedings. The lawyers read texts that repeated the allegations that Kazakhstan’s nationalized BTA Bank has been making against Ablyazov since 2009, but they refused to answer questions asked by Ablyazov’s defense. A Ukrainian diplomat who was seated behind the lawyers remained silent throughout the proceedings. The lawyers sparred with Ablyazov’s defense over the legality of their presence, but the judges refrained from judgment on the issue.

A ruling on Ablyazov’s extradition is expected by January 12, 2014. If the court decides against extradition, Ukraine and Russia cannot appeal the decision. If the court decides in favor of either extradition request, Ablyazov’s appeal rights could lead to proceedings continuing for another year. The public prosecutor asked the court to give priority to Russia’s extradition request over that of Ukraine, because the value of the alleged offenses in Russia exceeds those alleged by Ukraine.


Mukhtar Ablyazov, who has dedicated his life to opposing the dictatorial regime in Kazakhstan since resigning in 1999 as the country’s Minister of Energy, Industry and Trade, was arrested in France on July 31, at the request of Ukrainian authorities. On August 1 he was transferred to a prison in Luynes, near Aix-en-Provence, where judicial authorities had ensured that he be given an individual cell due to risks for his safety.

Ablyazov has been the target of multiple death threats and assassination attempts. He was formerly a political prisoner in Kazakhstan, jailed after co-founding the leading democratic opposition party there in 2001. While in prison from 2002 to 2003 he was tortured and had most of his wealth unlawfully expropriated. In 2009 he suffered another unlawful expropriation when Kazakhstan nationalized BTA Bank, which he headed and in which he indirectly held a total stake of approximately 80%. As his bank was being seized, Ablyazov relocated to the United Kingdom, where he was granted political asylum in 2011.

The nationalized bank pursued Ablyazov in civil proceedings in the United Kingdom, trying to shift the blame onto him for the billion-dollar losses triggered by Kazakhstan’s violent and reckless nationalization. In 2009 a worldwide freezing order was issued against Ablyazov’s assets by Judge William Blair, the brother of former Prime Minister Tony Blair – who in recent years has reportedly been paid between €9 million and €18 million annually as an advisor to Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev. In the course of the complex civil proceedings, in 2012 a judge considered that Ablyazov had violated the English freezing order, and sentenced him to 22 months in prison. Ablyazov did not surrender to go to prison because he reasonably took the view that if he were imprisoned, he would be in serious danger and he would not be able to protect his family. For not surrendering, the English court disallowed Ablyazov from defending himself against civil claims brought against him by BTA Bank. In November 2012, Ablyazov’s defenses that he submitted to court against BTA Bank’s civil claims were struck out without a trial having taken place. BTA Bank was then given permission to enter judgment against Ablyazov with respect to those claims. In August 2013 Ablyazov appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, asserting that his fair trial rights were violated and that he seeks to defend himself against the disingenuous claims being made against him by the nationalized bank.

Ablyazov fled the United Kingdom in 2012, after the London Metropolitan Police formally warned him that he risked being murdered or kidnapped in a politically motivated plot on British soil. Much of his family went into hiding until May 2013, when his wife and six-year-old daughter were located in a house in Rome by private agents working for the nationalized bank. The woman and girl were illegally handed over by Italian police to two diplomats from Kazakhstan who escorted them on a private jet from Rome to Astana. As Ablyazov decried a “kidnapping”, the deportation triggered a political crisis in Italy when it became known that Kazakhstan’s ambassador in Rome had colluded directly with Italian interior ministry officials to deliver Ablyazov’s wife and daughter to Kazakhstan. Indeed, on July 18, the United Nations issued a press release stating: “The circumstances of the deportation give rise to the appearance that this was in fact an extraordinary rendition.” Ablyazov’s wife and daughter remain in Kazakhstan today, hostages of the Nazarbayev regime. On September 25, Madina Ablyazova filed a criminal complaint in Rome, targeting in particular the diplomats from Kazakhstan with accusations of aggravated kidnapping. If their immunity is stripped for their gross abuses of diplomatic privileges, the diplomats could face prison sentences of up to 15 years.

Two months after locating his wife and daughter, private agents working for the nationalized bank also located Ablyazov, in the town of Mouans-Sartoux, near Cannes. French authorities took Ablyazov into custody on the basis of an arrest warrant issued in Ukraine in 2010 – in connection with allegations being made by the nationalized bank and at the behest of Kazakhstan.

The nationalized bank is being used as an instrument of President Nazarbayev to chase Ablyazov abroad, launching proceedings in multiple countries where the bank had interests or operations. Ablyazov has long asserted that if anyone is criminally responsible for the bank’s post-nationalization losses, it is the Nazarbayev regime, not Ablyazov, who by 2009 had turned the bank into an emerging markets success story before it was destroyed by corrupt government officials.

Three of the largest human rights NGOs in the world – Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the FIDH, have each in turn called on France not to extradite the regime opponent, and all three state that the charges against Ablyazov are politically motivated.

On August 1, Amnesty International issued a press release stating: “The French authorities must carefully consider all the angles to Ablyazov’s case and make absolutely sure that he is not sent to any country where he will be at risk of harm or of subsequently being loaded on to a plane to Kazakhstan.”

On August 8, Human Rights Watch issued a press release stating: “The French authorities should not extradite Mukhtar Ablyazov, a recognized refugee and an outspoken government critic, to Kazakhstan. In Kazakhstan, he would be at serious risk of ill-treatment and would face a flagrant denial of his fair trial rights. The French authorities also should not send Ablyazov to any country that might return him to Kazakhstan.”

On September 5, the FIDH (Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme/Worldwide Human Rights Movement) issued an open letter to the French authorities, stating: “We stress that Mr Ablyazov is a refugee in the European Union; he has been granted asylum on the grounds that he risked persecution in Kazakhstan.”

Ablyazov’s extradition proceedings in France could stretch from months to a year or longer.


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