L’Espresso: Mukhtar Ablyazov: "They want to kill me"
The dissident speaks out for the first time and reveals: the Kazakh regime promised deals to Italy in exchange for the arrest of his beloved ones.
For the first time since his imprisonment, Mukhtar Ablyazov, aged 51, a former Kazakh oligarch, has made himself heard. He attacks Russia, ruled by Putin, which backs up Kazakhstan in an attempt to make him return to his homeland. His historic opponent, the dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev, awaits him there, certainly not preparing an affectionate welcome. Ablyazov also became famous in Italy following a hurried deportation of his wife, Alma Shalabayeva, and his daughter, Alua, which sparked heated debates regarding the Minister of the Interior, Angelino Alfano. Ablyazov was arrested near Grasse on the French Riviera last summer and is currently imprisoned in Corbas near Lyon. The interview was conducted by mail over the past few weeks.
Mr Ablyazov, the arrest warrants issued by Interpol that led to your arrest in France were requested by Russia and Ukraine in 2009. What accusations are they based upon?
«Russia, at that time. along with Ukraine, became allied with Kazakhstan at Nazarbayev’s personal request. During my stay in the United Kingdom between 2009 and 2012, these arrest warrants were ignored. The French, on the other hand, decided in favour of the arrest last year. The simple truth is that Russia is misusing Interpol in order to bring about my extradition. Kazakhstan and Russia (and until recently Ukraine) are allied in the elimination of political opponents. I am not a criminal and one thing is certain: if I am ever extradited to Kazakhstan, I will not even hope to have a fair trial».
You asked for isolation as you fear for your life. What makes you believe you are in danger in a French prison?
«In the opinion of my lawyers, it would be very easy to get killed in a “mishap” in prison. They know that the Kazakh regime acts totally beyond the realms of legality. They told me that it would be simple and relatively cheap for the regime to commission my murder in prison, perhaps carried out by another prisoner».
Why does the French system of justice not grant you house arrest?
«The Metropolitan Police Service in London alerted me officially to a plot of a political nature aimed at my abduction and assassination. Kazakh diplomats in Rome kidnapped my wife and my daughter, who had been trailed by private Israeli and Italian detectives. A criminal investigation has been launched in Switzerland as the private detectives were found to be illegally following my eldest daughter Madina and her family. This is why, for good reason, the French authorities worry that if they release me, there an ‘accident’ might occur on the French territory».
Have you been able to see your wife and daughter in the French prison?
«Yes, following Alma and Alua’s return to Rome on 27 December 2013, they paid me a surprise visit in the prison on 31 December».
You were harshly critical of Italy after your wife and daughter’s deportation. How do you view Italy now that both are back in Rome?
«The then-Foreign Minister, Emma Bonino, acknowledged the truth and assumed a courageous stand within her government. Our family owes her a huge debt of gratitude».
But were the initial pressures exerted on Italy by Kazakhstan at a political level or entrepreneurial or both?
«I know how the Kazakh regime operates. It is one of the richest dictatorships in the world. In my pursuit, the regime exerted pressure on Western leaders several times at a political level, promising important commercial contracts in exchange for my capture and extradition. The Kazakh regime also hires powerful businessmen to exert pressures on politicians in the Western countries until they adopt a friendly attitude towards the dictator. I do not have any reason to think that it was different in the case of bringing about my wife and daughter’s deportation from Italy».
You were rumoured to have been in the company of a lover at the time of your arrest.
«I was with my sister and niece at the time of my arrest. The Kazakh sources also reported to the French authorities, as they had done in Italy, that I had an armed militia at my disposal, following me around. I was arrested by special forces armed with machine guns and equipped with a helicopter. They found a man in shorts in front of a computer, a woman and a little girl on holiday. The regime killed my allied politicians, imprisoned me, almost torturing me to death, took on one of the most costly legal battles in history, based on their lies and false evidence, to ruin me financially and physically. They also tried to destroy my reputation and make my family turn against me. But in its attempt to destroy me, the regime has only made our family stronger».
You have dealt with the English, French and Italian systems of justice. Which one do you trust the most right now?
«It seems that Kazakhstan was able to manipulate the European systems of justice, which rely on trust within the framework of international cooperation, and Kazakhstan strives to present itself as an apparently trustworthy country. But through the kidnapping of my wife and daughter in Italy the mask of the Kazakh regime slipped. Italy is now in a better position than any other country to understand the real face of the Kazakh regime. The others are still learning».
Eleven years between prison and trials
In Kazakh, then English and finally French courts, the charges against Mukhtar Ablyazov have always been of a financial and fiscal nature. The truth is that the justice system of the Asian country – ruled since 1989 by the iron fist of Nursultan Nazarbayev – pursues him for exclusively political reasons. The former banker and energy minister was the leading force and sponsor of an opposition movement ‘Alga!’. In the opinion of human rights organisations, such as the Open Dialog, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the oppression of the satrap Nazarbayev’s opponents, including torture, are commonplace in Kazakhstan. Since Western countries do not provide for an extradition to Kazakhstan, the regime uses arrest warrants issued through Interpol by friendly countries, such as Russia, as a ‘work around’. Ablyazov was imprisoned in his homeland in 2003, having been accused of corruption. At that time, the US State Department, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Parliament maintained that Ablyazov was to be regarded as a political prisoner, and described his trial as a farce. On his return to Kazakhstan in 2005, the banker and politician was accused of having embezzled 6 million dollars from the bank that he was in charge of, BTA bank. In 2011, he was granted political asylum in Great Britain, where in 2012 he was sentenced for fiscal crimes to 22 months’ imprisonment. Arrested in France in July 2013, he is fighting off extradition to Russia. The extradition granted in January by the court in Aix-en-Provence was annulled in April by the French court of cassation, which ordered a new trial to take place in Lyon. Ablyazov will do everything not to return – through Russia - to Kazakh prisons, where he was severely ill-treated in the past and which, he fears, he shall not leave alive, should he find himself there again.
Source: L’Espresso, 12 June 2014
Author: Maurizio Maggi
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14France to extradite Ablyazov on Moscow's request. Mediapart about his case.
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