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French Court Cancels Extradition Of Kazakh Dissident Tycoon To Russia

Dissident Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov in 2010
Dissident Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov in 2010

France's highest administrative court has canceled an extradition order to send Kazakh tycoon and opposition leader Mukhtar Ablyazov to Russia.

In a statement on December 9, the Council of State court said it canceled the extradition on the grounds that the request was made for political reasons.

The French government approved Ablyazov's extradition to Russia in September 2015. But the court's December 9 decision has now canceled that extradition order.

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer said on December 7 that France must refrain from extraditing an individual to a country where there are serious grounds for believing that he is at risk of being subjected to torture.

He also noted that Russia can extradite Ablyazov to Kazakhstan, where there are serious grounds to believe that Ablyazov is at risk of being subjected to torture.

Kazakhstan has no extradition treaty with France, but has such deals with Russia and Ukraine.

Ablyazov, former head of Kazakhstan's BTA bank, is wanted by Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine on suspicion of embezzling some $5 billion.

The Kazakh tycoon, who was arrested on the French Riviera in 2013 after months on the run, says the charges against him are politically motivated.

Ablyazov was 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 reporting by Reuters and AP

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