Lyon court hears Russian extradition request targeting Mukhtar Ablyazov
© 22.10.2014





Lyon, October 20, 2014 — On October 17, 2014, the Lyon Court of Appeal was the scene of a marathon 14-hour courtroom hearing that ran until 11:00 pm and yet still prevented the defense from presenting its full case in favor of Kazakh political opponent and former owner and chairman of the board of directors of BTA Bank, Mukhtar Ablyazov. The 3-member panel of judges terminated the proceedings and stated that they will announce their decision on the Russian extradition request on October 24, 2014.

During the daylong hearing, the judges refused to hear a word from world chess legend and Russian political opponent Garry Kasparov, who had traveled to Lyon and was in the courtroom to testify as a witness. The court likewise refused to hear preeminent Russian human rights law expert Lev Ponomarev and Ablyazov’s Russian defense lawyer Mark Feygin, who were also present. The defense noted that when United States President Barack Obama visited Moscow in June 2013, he met with Ponomarev to discuss Russian rule-of-law issues.

Ablyazov and his defense lawyers exposed the absurdity and politically-motivated nature of the Russian proceedings against him. However, the presiding judge asserted that the Lyon court is not there to determine whether or not Russia’s allegations are well founded, but rather only “whether the Russian extradition request complies with procedural rules”.

The defense reminded the Lyon judges that since December 2013, six European countries – from Poland to Austria to the Czech Republic to the United Kingdom to Italy and Spain – had all refused extraditions or provided protection to people associated with Ablyazov.

Ablyazov’s defense lawyers also underlined that no less than seven people from the Magnitsky List were involved in fabricating the Ablyazov case in Russia. These people included the judge Aleksey Krivoruchko, who issued Ablyazov’s Russian arrest warrant, and investigator Nikolai Budilo, in charge of the case. The Russian judge is in fact banned from entry to the United States. Krivoruchko, Budilo and the five others from the Magnitsky List involved in the Ablyazov case may also soon be banned from entry to the European Union. Legislative initiatives are underway in several European countries and at the European Parliament.

The Lyon court allowed Russian prosecutor Denis Grunis to plead for nearly two hours. Grunis commented in detail on the tragic Magnitsky case. Russian prosecutor Grunis asserted that Magnitsky died in police detention in Moscow, at the age of 37, not due to mistreatment and torture but rather due to natural causes. Grunis asserted that the Magnitsky List resulted from a large-scale lobbying campaign run by William Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management and leader of the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky campaign, paid for with funds Browder illicitly obtained in Russia. Grunis stated that Browder is a convicted fugitive from Russian justice, that Russia is seeking his arrest, and that the travel bans and asset freezes imposed on Magnitsky List individuals were no more than underhanded means for Browder to seek vengeance against and to pressure Russian judicial and law enforcement officials.

Even more shocking than the Russian prosecutor’s presentation of the Magnitsky case, French prosecutor Christian Ponsard referred approvingly to Grunis’s comments on the tragedy as being “invented by people convicted in Russia”. For Ponsard, Russia’s position on the Magnitsky Case was to be taken as an authoritative version of events. Ponsard accused Ablyazov’s defense of making unproven assertions about the circumstances of Magnitsky’s death. Ponsard further stated that the international political reaction to the Magnitsky campaign was not based on hard facts, and that the fact that seven people on the Magnitsky Lists were involved in the Ablyazov case by no means provides grounds for undermining the legitimacy of Russia’s accusations against Ablyazov or for suggesting that Ablyazov would not get a fair trail or be mistreated in Russia. Ponsard said that Magnitsky’s death and various legislative proposals “floating around” in Europe in response should have no bearing on the debate about the Ablyazov extradition.

After Ponsard had rejected the relevance of the Magnitsky case, Ablyazov’s lawyers read short extracts from letters Magnitsky had written from detention in the last months of his life. Listening to the desperate pleas for help from a dying man, the audience in the courtroom listened with rapt attention. Meanwhile, Ponsard rolled his eyes and looked at his watch.

Ponsard further shocked the audience by asserting that there were no systemic problems in Russia’s judicial and law enforcement systems that would create risks for Ablyazov if extradited. Ponsard’s position was in total denial of the realities documented and presented to the court by Ablyazov’s defense – as confirmed by massive hard evidence in the form of hundreds of European court decisions, the official positions of international governmental and non-governmental organizations, and not even to mention the recent geopolitical spectacle of a belligerent Russia ignoring international law, annexing Ukraine and fuelling a war on European soil. For the French prosecutor, Russia is a rule-of-law state, a reliable partner of France that could only act in good faith, and where Ablyazov faces no risk of an unfair trial or of mistreatment in detention.

Human rights activists from the European Union, Russia and Kazakhstan turned out in force to observe Ablyazov’s extradition hearing. The Ablyazov extradition case landed in the Lyon Court of Appeal after the French Cassation Court, in April 2014, annulled the Aix-en-Provence Court of Appeal’s initial decision in favor of Ablyazov’s extradition.

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