Stéphane Bonifassi writing in an article published by Swiss-based French language Gotham News has reported on the possibility of Kazakh “opposition leader” Mukhtar Ablyazov, who has been in exile in France since 2013, losing the status of a political refugee granted to him in 2020.
The State Council, it is reported, has just overturned this decision on the grounds that he committed a crime in the past by seizing the funds of BTA Bank.
Since the riots that recently shook Kazakhstan, Mukhtar Ablyazov has been providing the world with his political analyses in the French media. “The revolution is not over yet. On the contrary, this is just the beginning,” he says on the France Info website, adding that he is ready to “become prime minister of the interim government, without a president.”
The problem is that the former minister cannot return to his homeland because of the threat of ending up behind bars.
Indeed, he was convicted in 2017 of embezzlement in a case that is still being considered in several jurisdictions. In short, Mukhtar Ablyazov was the head of the first Kazakh commercial bank, BTA, when the state discovered that 6.4 billion euros had evaporated.
Ablyazov’s 2012 conviction in the UK.
In the United Kingdom, justice ruled in favour of the bank at the end of 2012 and ordered the businessman to pay compensation in the amount of $4.6 billion.
His assets were frozen and he was sentenced to 22 months in prison for contempt of Court. However, he fled to the south of France, where he was arrested in 2013. Since then, he has been fighting for refugee status.
In 2018, the French Office for the Protection of refugees and Stateless persons (OFPRA) rejected his asylum application for the first time, since his conviction for fraud was a crime under general law, which is the criterion for refusing asylum in accordance with Article F of the Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees. But two years later, the National Asylum Court reversed the decision, granting him refugee status “because of the risk of persecution arising in the case of returning to his homeland because of his political position.”
A crime under common law.
OFPRA then requested the opinion of the State Council. In the conclusion of December 8th, the latter believed that “the embezzlement of funds, which, as there are serious grounds to assume, was committed by Mukhtar Ablyazov, were devoid of any political motives.” Therefore his conviction in the United Kingdom is a crime under common law, which does not allow him to obtain refugee status.
In conclusion, public rapporteur Arno Skshierbak summarised “On our part, it seems that there is no incompatibility between the positions of OFPRA, on the one hand, regarding the risk of political persecution of Mukhtar Ablyazov, and on the other hand, regarding the existence of serious grounds to believe that he committed a serious crime under general law. A person can be subjected to political persecution for crimes that he has actually committed.”
He added: “The Court, apparently, first of all considered that the political motive of the prosecution directed against him raises serious doubts about the reality and scale of the facts in which he was charged. By doing so, he demonstrated an excessive demand for the expected level of evidence, if not some naivety…”
As for embezzlement of funds, it should be considered a serious crime according to common law, since the amounts are large.
At the same time, Kazakhstan continues to insist on France bringing charges against Ablyazov, since the State Council refused to extradite him in 2016. As reported at the time in Le Monde, in October 2020, Ablyazov had been charged with embezzlement in his home country.
Russia and Ukraine are also pursuing him. BTA also filed a complaint with the American court in New York, whose court recently imposed sanctions on the former Minister of Kazakhstan and his accomplice (and Son-in-Law) Ilyas Khrapunov, who was also charged. Their trial is scheduled to begin in February.
Several lawyers who have defended Mukhtar Ablyazov in the past told Gotham that they no longer represent his interests. Therefore, Gotham City could not contact its legal consultants.