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British Court Freezes Billions Tied To Alleged Kazakh Bank Theft

Bolat Otemuratov, one of Kazakhstan's richest businessmen and investors, in 2016
Bolat Otemuratov, one of Kazakhstan's richest businessmen and investors, in 2016

A court in the United Kingdom has frozen up to $5 billion in assets tied to the alleged theft of billions of dollars from Kazakhstan's BTA Bank.

According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on December 1, the Enterprise and Property Courts of England and Wales on November 13 ordered the freezing of stakes in luxurious inns, money in financial institution accounts in six countries, and a Burger King franchise in Kazakhstan.

The report says the ruling was based mostly on a petition from state-owned BTA Bank, which has alleged for years that its former chairman, Mukhtar Ablyazov, an outspoken critic of the Kazakh government, stole more than $6 billion.

BTA's petition accuses one of Kazakhstan's richest businessmen and investors, Bolat Otemuratov, of assisting Ablyazov in hiding the money stolen from the bank.

Otemuratov, who has been known for many years as a close ally of former President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his family, denied the accusations via spokeswoman Olga Abdrakhmanova, who told the WSJ that the allegations were "based mostly on false paperwork offered by BTA Financial institution...and its legal professionals."

BTA also accuses former Kazakh official Viktor Khrapunov, who currently resides in Switzerland, and members of his family of assisting Ablyazov in stealing the money.

Mukhtar Ablyazov (left) and Ilyas Khrapunov deny the charges.
Mukhtar Ablyazov (left) and Ilyas Khrapunov deny the charges.

Khrapunov's stepson Ilyas is married to Ablyazov's daughter Madina.

Before the WSJ report, Ablyazov wrote about the accusations put forward against Otemuratov on Facebook, calling him "Nazarbaev's wallet," who, on behalf of the former president, holds assets of Nazarbaev that have a worth of some $5 billion.

According to Ablyazov, accusations against Otemuratov are politically motivated and an attempt to "destroy him physically and financially" and remove him from Kazakhstan's political scene.

Ablyazov also alleged that the powerful chairman of the Kazakh Committee for National Security (KNB), Karim Masimov, is behind BTA's latest move, through which he says Masimov wants to discredit Nazarbaev and deprive him of the assets.

Otemuratov's Verny Capital company has issued a statement saying that Otemuratov was in Nur-Sultan and continued to work as usual, focusing on social activities and admitting that he and several other individuals were defendants in a case at a British court.

"The lawsuit against Mukhtar Ablyazov and Ilyas Khrapunov was initially filed by BTA Bank in 2015. In November 2020, as the list of individuals accused by the bank widened, Bolat Otemuratov and several individuals from his business structures were added to the list of defendants," the company's statement said.

Ilyas Khrapunov said in a press release offered by his lawyer that the accusations against him were "ridiculous and fictional" and based mostly on "fabricated paperwork." He also stressed that BTA was bringing the case toward Otemuratov to take him out as a political opponent.

Nazarbaev, 80, who stepped down in March 2019 after almost 30 years running the oil-rich Central Asian country, continues to play a key role in its internal and foreign policies as the leader of the ruling Nur-Otan party, lifetime chairman of the powerful Security Council, and enjoys almost limitless powers as "elbasy," or "leader of the nation."

For many years, Otemuratov and his business structures have been associated with Nazarbaev and members of his family.

Otemuratov spokeswoman Abdrakhmanova told the WSJ that Kazakh media reports alleging the tycoon's association with Nazarbaev have been exaggerated, adding that Otemuratov's fortune was $3.2 billion.

According to Forbes, Otemuratov is the world's 764th-richest person.

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