A conference at the Press Club in Brussels heard last week that a group of six Members of the European Parliament had, independently of their political groups, written to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other senior political figures calling for them to overturn a legitimate judicial decision and grant asylum to a convicted fugitive.
The case concerns one Zhanara Akhmetova, a citizen of Kazakhstan, who fled to Ukraine in order to escape a seven-year jail sentence imposed upon her for financial fraud. She had been accused of defrauding both banks and private citizens without repaying her debts. Her sentence had been postponed in deference to the fact that she had a young son, and she was therefore granted leave to look after him until he reached the age of 14. As the time to turn herself in approached, she took to her heels.
In Kyiv, where she currently resides, she reinvented herself as a persecuted political oppositionist in exile, a journalist, and a blogger.
Her case was taken up by the controversial Brussels-based human rights NGO Open Dialogue Foundation, and although the MEPS do not declare the source of their information, it appears that it was at the behest of the ODF that the MEPs signed their letter calling for her to be granted political asylum.
The conference heard that Akhmetova’s case for asylum had already been heard twice, and was rejected on both occasions. It further heard that her case appeared fraudulent, as whilst her conviction dates from 2009, she only began to dabble in politics in 2017.
It is unclear what motivated the MEPs, drawn from a range of political groups and including a member of Germany’s far-right AfD, to sign the letter. A request to each of them failed to produce any response. In particular it is unclear why they appeared to care nothing about the problems of the victims tricked by the alleged fraud of Zhanara Akhmetova, and helping to secure compensation through the courts for the money stolen from them.
The main questions raised by the conference were not so much about the case of Zhanara Akhmetova, but more about the way in which MEPs, working with an NGO that has been linked with organised crime and money laundering, have, seemingly without any reference to the Parliament’s administration, and on European Parliament headed paper, seen fit to challenge the legal integrity of two sovereign nations, both of which are important partners to the EU.
It was suggested during the conference that the Parliamentarians had an attitude towards Kazakhstan and Ukraine that came across as “patronising, colonial and insulting”, and that this letter would serve only to reinforce that perception.
The Open Dialogue Foundation has often been linked with the fugitive fraudster Mukhtar Ablyazov, again a Kazakh citizen, and wanted in numerous countries, and named in Britain’s Sunday Times in April 2019 as being involved in the ODF through the activities of the organisation’s board member, Bartosz Kramek, who is also the husband of the head of the NGO, Lyudmyla Kozlovska.
In 2017 her husband Bartosz Kramek published a 16-point plan for “turning off the government”, in which he incited people to “paralyse the state’s functioning” by not paying taxes, having teachers and judges go on strike, holding constant street protests, ostracising people associated with Poland’s political right, especially the governing Law and Justice party, and specifically taunting its leader, Jarosław Kaczyński.
There appears to be a very strong argument in favour of increased oversight of NGOs operating in the EU institutions, and this was one of the key take away messages from the conference.