La Stampa: Not all dissidents are equal
© 20.01.2014


From Khodorkhovsky to Gusinsky, men who were a nuisance to the former Soviet Union always found protection in the European countries, regardless of the accusations hurled at them. Why was case of Ablyazov different?

Not all oligarchs are equal and nor are all dissidents. While Mikhail Khodorkovsky, having been pardoned by Putin thanks to Angela Merkel’s intercession after 10 years, during which chancelleries, non-governmental organisations and media across half of the world denounced his status as a political prisoner, is moving to Switzerland, Mukhtar Ablyazov is packing his suitcases in anticipation of his extradition from France to Russia. From there, he will probably be transferred to Kazakhstan; as the country does not have an extradition treaty signed directly with Paris. According to Alma Shalabayeva, the tycoon and dissident’s wife, who has just returned to Italy following her outrageous extradition that took place last year, it is a “death sentence”.

The Aix-en-Provence court has probably set a precedent. Thus far, those who defied the political powers in the post-Soviet Union countries were usually granted asylum in the West. This is what happened to Khodorkovsky and many more before him: Spain did not hand over Vladimir Gusinsky whose media empire was overly critical of the Kremlin, back to Russia; Great Britain granted asylum to Boris Berezovsky and his followers; Israel does not even consider rendering Leonid Nevzlin, ‘man Friday’ of the head of Yukos, back to Moscow. Europe keeps calling for the release of Yulia Timoshenko, making this a condition upon which Ukraine will become closer to Europe. All of them were accused in their homelands of economic and criminal, but not political offences. None of these people are saints. All of them participated joyfully in the ‘grand game’ of power and wealth division and during the post-communism period, using measures and instruments they had at their disposal. But the fact that these people would not undergo a fair trial in their homelands mattered to the judges more than their self-interest and political connivance, also because it was obvious from the range of accusations leveled by Moscow, Kiev and Astana in the European courts, that the distinction between offences which were more or less legitimate and which amounted to political revenge, was impossible to make.

It was for this reason that even Ablyazov’s troublesome compatriot Rakhat Aliev was granted asylum in Austria. He is the Kazakh president’s ex-son-in-law and the former chief of the secret services, accused of murdering both his business competitors and opponents. And these charges are probably not at all unfounded. The Austrian court did not get to the heart of the matter, limiting itself to confirming the unequivocal fact: Aliev, removed from office and made to divorce the president’s daughter in absentia, could well be an offender, but Astana did not want him back in order to immediately bring him to justice, but rather for some unknown reasons, he posed a threat.

Asylum for the enemies of the powerful, the former usually falling into this category after being too close to the latter, as in Ablyazov’s case, was a means of reiterating that two worlds existed – the world of law and order and the world of revenge and intrigue; Europe and Asia, with their respective mentalities. Why was Mukhtar Ablyazov not treated the same? Because he is not such a glamorous oligarch as Khodorkovsky and he was not clever enough to gather liberal intellectuals around him, to finance pro-democratic non-governmental organisations and to attend socials on both sides of the Atlantic: Because he comes from a place which is too distant and too different to attract real interest from Paris or Brussels? Because of the unutterable favour for high politics, a sphere in which he is only a puppet? He certainly is a controversial figure, and even British justice was baffled over the six billion dollars he was said to have transferred from the BTA, a bank which once belonged to him. Ablyazov, who argued with Her Majesty’s judiciary, was convicted for contempt of court, went into hiding, travelled around with a passport issued by the Central African Republic which seemed highly dubious, was surrounded by a world of obscure money networks among the subsidiaries on the Virgin Islands and dummy corporations, luxurious villas registered in the names of his brothers-in-law and suspicious deaths among his entourage. But it is still true that his bank was taken away from him by the government and that he was imprisoned and then pardoned by Nursultan Nazarbaev (whose favourite he had been for years) on making an explicit promise to leave the world of politics. Later, however, he set up an opposition party. There is no point in pretending that his case was of an ordinary criminal nature. The final decision regarding his extradition will be made by the government in Paris and no matter how it is presented; it will be a political decision.

Source: La Stampa