ALMATY -- Kazakh businessman Iskander Erimbetov, whose sister is a former lawyer for fugitive tycoon Mukhtar Ablyazov, has been sentenced to seven years in prison on corruption charges that his supporters contend are politically motivated.
A court in Almaty convicted Erimbetov and three associates of financial fraud late on October 22. Two of the other defendants were sentenced to four years and two months in prison, while the third was handed a suspended three-year sentence.
Erimbetov and his associates were arrested in November 2017 and charged with embezzlement and with laundering money allegedly stolen by Ablyazov. The latter charge was later dropped.
Relatives claim that Erimbetov's arrest was a politically motivated effort to put pressure on his sister Botagoz Jardemalie, a lawyer who formerly represented Ablyazov. Jardemalie has been granted political asylum in Belgium.
Ablyazov, a former head of Kazakhstan's BTA bank who lives abroad, is a prominent opponent of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. He is wanted by Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine on suspicion of embezzling some $5 billion.
Ablyazov denies the accusations, saying they are politically motivated. Several politicians and activists have fled Kazakhstan in recent years, fearing for their safety or anticipating politically motivated prosecution.
Opponents and rights groups say that Nazarbaev, who has held power in the Central Asian nation since before the 1991 Soviet breakup, has taken systematic steps to suppress dissent and sideline potential opponents.