Detention of Alma Shalabayeva
In the early hours of 29 May, 2013, the special Italian police unit for organised crime – DIGOS (Divisione Investigazioni Generali e Operazioni Speciali) broke into a house rented by Shalabayeva's sister, Venera Seralieva, located in the outskirts of Rome, in Casal Palocco.
The official target of the special operation, carried out by over 30 armed officers, was Ablyazov himself. Police planned to arrest him following a notice issued by Interpol. In Ablyazov’s absence, the officers of DIGOS arrested his wife, Alma Shalabayeva, and their six-year-old daughter, Alua Ablyazova. Alma and Alua were detained on suspicion of illegal residence.
After confirming their Kazakh nationality with the embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Italy, the Italians decided on their immediate deportation. During the night of 31 May, 2013, Alma Shalabayeva and her daughter Alua were deported to Kazakhstan. The deportation was carried out despite the fact that the Ministry of Justice of the Central African Republic and two diplomatic posts had confirmed the validity of the CAR diplomatic passport (No. 6FB04081 – attached) issued in the name of Alma Ayan.
- So far no legal grounds have been identified for the deportation
- Ablyazov’s wife and daughter were deported based on the decision issued by a justice of peace and an administrative expulsion order issued by the prefect of Rome. It was the first such procedure carried out in Italy
- Alma and Alua did not pose a threat to social order, therefore their immediate deportation was groundless
- Ablyazov’s wife and daughter had the right to remain on EU territory, granted to them by Latvia and Great Britain
- Alma and Alua were transported to Kazakhstan in a chartered plane, two days after their arrest
Thus far, the legal grounds under which the deportation was carried out, are unknown. The wife and daughter of Mukhtar Ablyazov were expelled by decision of the justice of the peace and the decision of the prefect of Rome on administrative expulsion. The counsels point out that such a procedure was applied in Italy for the first time in this instance. Alma Shalabayeva and Alua Ablyazova didn’t pose a threat to public order nor national security in Italy, and so there was no reason for their immediate deportation.
Alma Shalabayeva had the right to reside in the EU, having received permission from Latvia and the United Kingdom. During her detention, counsels were not permitted to meet with Alma, thus depriving her of the right to challenge the deportation and the right to a retrial. According to the law, following her arrest, Shalabayeva also had the right to request asylum. Police officers violated this rule by depriving her of the opportunity to initiate the procedure an asylum applicant should be guaranteed this protection). Italy, bound by the UN Convention against torture, was also obliged not to expel Shalabayeva to a country, where she may face torture.
The entire extradition process was carried out in an unprecedentedly short time. Alma and Alua were transported to Kazakhstan on a chartered plane, just two days after their arrest. For this purpose, an exclusive jet ‘Bombardier BD-100-1a10 Challenger’ was leased by an Austrian company ‘Avcon Jet’ to the company ‘Air Dynamic srl’. The invoice for the rental was submitted to the Kazakh Embassy in Italy.
According to Mukhtar Ablyazov, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. “I hereby announce that the kidnapping of my family has been organised on the orders of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Previously a political opponent, he has now moved on to outright terrorism, i.e. taking hostages”, – Mukhtar Ablyazov stated.
Accusations of the General Prosecutor's Office of Kazakhstan
A criminal case against Shalabayeva has been instituted in Kazakhstan. Shalabayeva was presented with charges, which included falsification of documents, using a false passport and bribery. The National Security Committee of the Republic of Kazakhstan is involved in the case, although ordinarily, the competence of the service is almost exclusively limited to cases of the highest state-level.
The day following the arrest of Alma in Italy, the head of the Investigation Unit of the NSC Department of Atyrau Province, A. Abugaliyev instituted a criminal case against Alma Shalabayeva. She faced accusations under the following articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan (the CC of the RK):
• Article 325 section 2 of the Criminal Code, “Forgery of a certificate or other official document granting the rights or releasing from duties, or sale of such a document, as well as the manufacture or sale of counterfeit stamps, seals, forms, state awards of the Republic of Kazakhstan or the Soviet Union, committed repeatedly or by group of persons by prior agreement”.
• Article 325 section 3 of the Criminal Code: “A deliberate use of falsified documents”.
During the night of 1 June, 2013, at the airport in Astana, a representative of the National Security Committee served Shalabayeva with a decision to institute criminal proceedings, present charges and apply preventive measures in the form of obligation not to leave her place of residence. The documents were dated 30 May, 2013 (Alma was deported on 31 May, 2013). Shalabayeva refused to sign or accept the documents.
According to investigators, in 2012, Shalabayeva produced fake passports and identity cards of the Republic of Kazakhstan with the help of the employees of the Registration Service Committee of the Ministry of the Interior and the Department of Justice of Atyrau Province. The prosecutor's office accused Shalabayeva of giving a 16-thousand-dollar bribe.
Two days after the deportation of Shalabayeva, employees of the Department of Justice of the Republic of Kazakhstan were convicted of accepting bribes. The defendants intend to appeal against the ruling, due to the lack of any corroborative evidence.
On 7 June, 2013, Alma Shalabayeva was served with an order to institute criminal proceedings. According to the decision, from August 2012 to the present date, Alma Shalabayeva has been using the passport issued on the basis of the bribe given to the officials. The decision does not contain any examples of instances when the passport was used.
From 2009 to 1 June, 2013, Mukhtar Ablyazov’s wife resided outside Kazakhstan, including a stay in the UK. Whilst abroad, she had been using a passport issued by the Republic of Kazakhstan in 2007, which is valid until 2017.
The arguments of the Kazakh Prosecutor's Office seem unclear. Alma held a valid Kazakh passport, therefore, had no need to apply for a new one. Moreover, based on the passport issued in 2007, she obtained the status of residency of England and a residence permit (resident card) from Latvia. In addition, to the Kazakh passport, Shalabayeva held a genuine diplomatic passport of the Central African Republic. On 20 June, 2013, the Ministry of Justice of the Central African Republic officially confirmed that Alma Shalabayeva bears a legal diplomatic passport of the CAR in the name of Alma Ayan. Shalabayeva applied for the passport in the name of Alma Ayan for safety reasons.
Therefore, there was no legal basis of the deportation. Alma had two residence permits issued by EU countries, which afforded her the right to reside in any country within the EU zone, as well as a valid Kazakh passport and a diplomatic passport of the CAR.
Given the prolificacy and predictably of the judgements being passed in political cases in Kazakhstan, Alma Shalabayeva may be subjected to conviction and imprisonment incontinently. By these means, the Kazakh authorities will gain an important advantage in the fight against the main opponent of Nazarbayev – Mukhtar Ablyazov. In the event of Shalabayeva's conviction, there is a risk that her six-year-old daughter will be sent to an orphanage. The Kazakh authorities may use the advanced age of Alua's grandparents as an excuse for taking the child away from her family.
Alma on the Deportation
The course of the deportation has been described by Alma herself:
“I was escorted by two men from Kazakhstan. One of them is the Consul in Italy (...).During the conversation, they pretended that they were not aware of my identity or why such an expensive plane had been sent especially for me. They certainly knew who I was but they pretended that they didn’t. We boarded the plane with no documentation. The documents remained in Italy and I didn’t know what had happened to them. The Kazakhs said that they did not have our documents.
A Russian air hostess met us on board. It was a very luxurious, privately owned plane. Everyone was astonished by the fact that such an expensive plane had been chosen. They wanted to watch a film and so DVDs were brought; they were all in Russian. During the flight, the tall guy spent almost all of the time in the flight deck. The air hostess was whispering with my escort all the time. She talked in Russian. Something extraordinary was obviously going on in the flight deck, as they were communicating with the ground. I sensed that there was some tension in the flight deck.
I was in a total shock, it was not fear – I was completely numb (…)
When we arrived, they were already waiting for us. I was told to get off first. I was simply in a stupor, it was not just pure fright anymore, it was utter consternation, and I was only thinking about my child and doing all I could not to fall over. I felt sick. When I was getting off, I saw that the air hostess passing some papers to the people accompanying me. We were accompanied by two persons. When someone asked ‘Where are her documents?’ they produced two papers as if from out of fresh air. They carried photos, mine and my daughter’s, and the passport details.
Then we were put into the car which took us to the airport terminal. At that moment I noticed that we were being filmed on a video camera from behind a glass door. During passport control they asked our escort to present documents. It was at that moment that the documents, handed over by the air hostess were produced. Some woman said: ‘They can pass’. And they let us through. These people were talking on their phones all the time, and they would nip off each time they received a call. They were constantly calling somewhere and reporting something. ‘We are still at the airport, we are passing…’. They kept pressing their telephones to their ears. They received orders and reported their every move. I was walking as if I was in a fog and hoping to God that they would not take Alua away from me.
Then they took us to a room and told us to wait. Three persons came. ‘We have brought an order on the institution of criminal proceedings and transferral of the case for preparatory proceedings’, said one of them as they passed papers to me, ‘Please familiarise yourself with it and sign it’. I came to my senses and categorically refused: ”I am not signing anything.”
Diplomatic Scandal in Italy
In connection with the deportation of Alma Shalabayeva, a scandal broke out in Italy, jeopardising the work of the current government, headed by Enrico Letta. The Italian public and the press were outraged by the ‘emergency’ expulsion of the wife and daughter of Mukhtar Ablyazov from the country.
On 9 July, 2013, during a meeting of members of the lower chamber of the Italian Parliament with the Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, a question was raised about the circumstances of the deportation of Alma Shalabayeva from Italy to Kazakhstan. On 12 July, 2013, Enrico Letta convened a meeting of ministers of internal affairs, justice and foreign affairs. The meeting resulted in the adoption of a communiqué by the government. The statement announced the retrospective annulment of the deportation orders, as they had been issued without the knowledge of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, or the heads of the Interior Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. The paper states that the blame for this incident falls with the police authorities who failed to inform the Italian government of their actions.
The Italian media blamed the Interior Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, Angelino Alfano simultaneously,, for the illegal deportation. He is also a member of the centre-right party ‘The People of Freedom’ headed by Silvio Berlusconi, known for his friendly relations with the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The political parties Five Star Movement and Left, Ecology and Freedom, demanded the resignation of Angelino Alfano. On 16 July, 2013, the head of Angelino Alfano’s Cabinet, Giuseppe Procaccini, resigned from his post. Shortly before the deportation, Procaccini met with the Ambassador of Kazakhstan, Adrian Elemesov, in Italy. On 19 July, 2013, the lower house of the Italian parliament considered the issue of the resignation of Angelino Alfano. The Minister of the Internal Affairs claimed that he was not aware of the deportation of Alma Shalabayeva and Alua Ablyazova, and that the police had acted whilst under pressure from the Ambassador of Kazakhstan in Rome.
Ultimately, the lower house of the Italian parliament rejected the motion of censure against Angelino Alfano. 55 senators voted for the motion of censure, and 226 from the ruling centre-left and centre-right voted against the motion. 13 parliamentarians abstained. After the unsuccessful vote, came the first calls for the establishment of a commission of inquiry on the family of the dissident from Kazakhstan.
On 17 July, 2013, The Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Italy, Adrian Elemesov, was ordered to report to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in connection with the deportation of Alma Shalabayeva and Alua Ablyazova from the country. But as the Kazakh ambassador was on leave, the meeting in the MFA was attended by Kazakhstan’s Charge d'affaires ad interim, Zhanybek Imanaliyev.
According to Adrian Elemesov, the Kazakh authorities hadn’t exerted any pressure on the Italian police. According to him, they had only handed over the documents regarding Interpol's warrant for Mukhtar Ablyazov’s arrest to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Italy.
Emma Bonino was considering the possibility of expelling the Ambassador of Kazakhstan from Italy, but this would limit the opportunity of exerting diplomatic influence on the Kazakh authorities with regard to their compliance with the rights of the wife and daughter of Mukhtar Ablyazov in Kazakhstan.
Earlier, Minister Emma Bonino noted that the case of the illegal deportation “would damage the image of the Italian government, we would look pathetic – as if we had ‘sold out’ two hostages to a foreign government”. The President of the Chamber of Deputies of the national Parliament of the country, Laura Boldrini also stated: “There is no doubt that Shalabayeva’s case has hugely discredited our international prestige”.
On 3 August, 2013, in Almaty, Alma Shalabayeva was visited by members of the Italian Parliament and representatives of the political party Five Star Movement. Member of the delegation, Malio de Stefano, stated: "We have come especially for the purpose of seeing how Alma Shalabayeva is doing, as we were involved in her deportation from Italy. We bring wishes from our citizens, who did not like what was done to Mrs. Shalabayeva in Rome”. Earlier, in July, members of the Polish Sejm: Marcin Święcicki, Tomasz Makowski and Adam Rybakowicz also visited Alma Shalabayeva and her daughter.
The president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, expressed his stark criticism of the deportation of Alma Shalabayeva. He noted that the decision to deport her was made without necessary verification or thorough examination of the situation by the Italian bodies: “For any country, it is unacceptable to give in to the pressure and interference of foreign diplomacy, which resulted in the hasty expulsion of a mother and child from Italy on the basis of distorted information. I also believe that we need to fully guarantee fundamental rights of persons, regardless of the status which they have in our country”.
On 24 July, 2013, the office of the judge of peace in the Immigration Department in Rome considered the complaint of Alma Shalabayeva’s counsels regarding violations of procedural rules during her deportation from Italy to Kazakhstan. The court expressed its view, stating that it condemned the deportation decision, as it was issued and carried out in violation of the law.
Accusation of the Kazakh Diplomats in Rome
Judge of the Supreme Court of Italy, Astolfo di Amato, requested to waive the immunity of the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Italy and the two employees of the embassy, accusing them of kidnapping Shalabayeva and her daughter.
On 25 September, 2013, a request for the waiver of immunity and arraignment of the Kazakh diplomats was formally filed by the eldest daughter of Ablyazov – Madina Ablyazova, in the name of which Astolfo di Amato is working.
The Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Italy, Adrian Elemesov, was supposedly insistent on carrying out the deportation, along with that of the other two embassy employees who allegedly escorted Shalabayeva on the jet chartered by the embassy.
During the press conference in Rome, counsels revealed a picture taken by one of the jet pilots at the airport apron in Rome. In the picture, the diplomats are debating with Italians in uniform. They also revealed scans of passports of the two people shown in the photograph. They are two employees of the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Rome – Nurlan Khassen and Yerzhan Yessirkepov.
According to Astolfo di Amato, there is a possibility of lifting the immunity of the Kazakh diplomats. In a similar case in 2003, the Italian Supreme Court lifted the immunity of agents of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and then sentenced them to custodial sentences for the ‘emergency’ expulsion of the Islamic cleric Abu Omar from Italy.
Reaction of the International Community
The deportation became the subject of numerous appeals by human rights organisations and international organisations.
On 25 June, 2013, members of the European Parliament, namely: Sari Essaya and Eija-Riitta Korhola, addressed a statement to Nursultan Nazarbayev, urging him to stop the politically-motivated harassment of Alma Shalabayeva. “Being concerned about the recent kidnapping and forced deportation of Alma Shalabayeva and Alua Ablyazova, the wife and 6-year-old daughter of Mukhtar Ablyazov, from Italy to Kazakhstan, and the politically motivated charges, immediately brought against Shalabayeva in her country, we hereby call for a cessation of the politically motivated harassment of opposition leaders’ families and for Alma Shalabayeva and Alua Ablyazova to be permitted to return to their place of residence in Europe” – the statement reads.
On 11 July, 2013, the Subcommittee on Human Rights in the European Parliament discussed the issues related to the deportation of Alma Shalabayeva and Alua Ablyazova from Italy to Kazakhstan, and on 12 July, 2013, the human rights organisation UN Watch presented the UN Council with a report on the deportation. On 18 July, 2013, UN experts on human rights: François Crépeau, Juan E. Méndez, and Gabriela Knaul expressed their concern over the 'extraordinary rendition' of the wife and daughter of Mukhtar Ablyazov.
A representative of the international organisation Amnesty International, Italy, Riccardo Nouri, also joined the appeal and commented on the deportation of Alma Shalabayeva and Alua Ablyazova: “By deporting Alma Shalabayeva and her 6-year-old daughter, Italy has violated international laws; this deportation was carried out hastily and in
The scandal that ensued in Rome may prove fatal both for Rome and Astana.
accordance with a procedure unknown to our political authorities. The annulment of the deportation does not discharge our country from its obligation to ensure the safety of the woman and her child”. On 16 July, 2013, Amnesty International called on the Italian authorities to conduct a thorough international investigation into the incident: “Now Shalabayeva is in the hands of the Kazakh authorities which contrive charges against their political opponents and anyone associated with them. Also, Kazakhstan has a reputation for subjecting its citizens to torture, ill -treatment and monstrously unjust trials”.
Hugh Williamson, the director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of the human rights organisation Human Right Watch announced: “The scandal which erupted in Rome, has adversely affected both Rome and Astana. In order to prevent further deterioration of the situation, Kazakhstan should return Shalabayeva and her daughter and deal with the growing concern regarding the violation of human rights”.
Release from Kazakhstan
On 24th December 2013, a representative of the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a change in the restriction of liberty measure for Alma Shalabayeva and the withdrawal of her prohibition from leaving Almaty. Shalabayeva and her daughter, Alua received their passports and left Kazakhstan. The criminal case against the wife of Mukhtar Ablyazov however, remains open.
On 18th April 2014, the Italian authorities granted Ablyazov’s wife and daughter refugee status. Alma and Alua received a 5-year renewable permit of stay. The decision on the award of refugee status was made by the Territorial Commission in Rome for Recognition of International Protection, under Article 1 of the Geneva Convention.