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French Court Authorizes Extradition Of Fugitive Kazakh Banker

Mukhtar Ablyazov
Mukhtar Ablyazov

An appellate court in the French city of Lyon has authorized the extradition of fugitive Kazakh banker Mukhtar Ablyazov.

Ablyazov is wanted for embezzlement by Russia, Kazakhstan,and Ukraine. In the October 24 decision, the French court said priority would be given to Russia for the extradition.

Ablyazov is accused of embezzling some $5 billion when he was head of Kazakhstan's BTA bank. He denies those accusations and says the charges are false and politically motivated.

Ablyazov's daughter Madina Ablyazova and his lawyer Mark Feigin confirmed the court ruling to RFE/RL.

They said Ablyazov would appeal to the country's final appeal's court, the Court of Cassation.

Another of Ablyazov's attorneys, Peter Sahas, spoke with RFE/RL after the Lyon court's decision. Sahlas said he had already filed an appeal with the Court of Cassation.

Sahas also said Kazakhstan has been "working hard to press the French to hand him [Ablyazov] to Russia or to Ukraine because they want, obviously, him to be taken afterwards from Russia or Ukraine back to Kazakhstan."

Leading Opposition Figure

Ablyazov, a former minister who had also been a leading opposition figure in Kazakhstan, was arrested on the French Riviera in July 2013 after months on the run.

Madina Ablyazova told RFE/RL that she and her family were expecting the Lyon court's ruling because "the last hearing was a complete disaster."

Ablyazova said her father was also prepared for the verdict.

"It didn’t shock him," Ablyazova said, "He could understand...before he even heard the translation [of the verdict]."

Ablyazov was already a successful businessman by the late 1990s and in 1998 was appointed minister of energy, industry, and trade.

In 2001, he formed the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement to challenge the rule of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Ablyazov was convicted of abuse of office in 2002 and sentenced to six years in prison but was released in 2003 after promising he would not engage in politics.

By 2005 he was able to rebuild the BTA bank he founded and served as bank chairman from 2005 until 2009 when BTA filed a lawsuit against him.

Ablyazov fled the country, spending time in Russia then in Britain where he sought political asylum.

Charges were also filed against Ablyazov in a British court and his assets there were ordered to be frozen.

In 2012, a British court ordered Ablyazov to be jailed for perjury pertaining to his financial assets and he fled the country.

Since his flight from Kazakhstan, Ablyazov is alleged to have funded opposition groups in Kazakhstan and media outlets that carried critical reports about Kazakhstan's government.

With additional reporting by AFP, TASS, and Interfax
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