Human Rights Watch - France: Protect Critic of Kazakhstan Government © mukhtarablyazov.org
On January 9, 2014, a court in Aix-en-Provence, France approved extradition requests filed by both Russia and Ukraine for the former BTA bank chairman and opposition figure Mukhtar Ablyazov. The court said Russia should take priority, after the French prosecutor argued that Ablyazov’s alleged crimes there, including embezzlement, are greater in scale.
An Ablyazov family lawyer told Human Rights Watch that the judges did not provide any reasoning for their decision, but said that written decisions would be provided later. Ablyazov and his defense team said they plan to appeal the decision to the Court of Cassation in Paris.
Arguments concerning Ablyazov’s extradition to both Russia and Ukraine were heard on December 12, 2013. Ablyazov’s defense team described the hearing as “disorganized and rushed” and said their client had “inadequate translation facilities.”
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on the French authorities not to extradite Ablyazov to either Ukraine or Russia. Under international and European human rights law, France has an obligation to protect Ablyazov, a recognized refugee in the UK, from extradition to any country that might return him to Kazakhstan, where he is at grave risk of ill-treatment and flagrant denial of his fair trial rights.
Ablyazov’s lawyers said that at the December 12 hearing, both Russia and Ukraine provided assurances that Ablyazov would neither be ill-treated nor sent on to Kazakhstan. Ablyazov’s defense team contended, though, that France would be in violation of its international and European human rights obligations if their client is sent to either Russia or Ukraine due to the real risk of torture or ill-treatment in either country and the likelihood that he would be sent on to Kazakhstan.
“Kazakh authorities have made no secret of the fact they want Mukhtar Ablyazov in their custody,” said Mihra Rittmann, Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Diplomatic assurances from Russia and Ukraine—both of which have a sorry record of sending people to places where they face a risk of ill-treatment or torture—are hardly a guarantee that Ablyazov won’t end up in Kazakhstan’s clutches.”