French court urged to extradite Kazakh tycoon

12th December 2013, Comments 0 comments

Prosecutors on Thursday urged a French court to grant requests from Russia and Ukraine for the extradition of exiled Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, an opposition figure wanted on embezzlement charges.

Prosecuting attorney Solange Legras told the court to make Russia's extradition request a priority, saying the case against him there was "considerably more serious".

She also urged the court in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence to reject Ablyazov's claim that he was facing political persecution.

"He has not indicated that he is a Russian politician. In reality he claims to be an opposition politician in Kazakhstan but, from what I know, it is not Kazakhstan that is demanding him but Russia," Legras said.

She had earlier urged the court to grant a similar request from Ukraine for his extradition, insisting that Ablyazov would not be re-extradited to Kazakhstan.

A decision is expected in several weeks.

Ablyazov, who became an opposition figure before fleeing Kazakhstan over the embezzlement accusations, was arrested in July in a six-bedroom house near the resort of Cannes, on a warrant issued by Ukraine.

The former Kazakh energy and trade minister is accused of having stolen billions of dollars in state and investor funds while leading the Kazakh BTA Bank, which also had interests in Ukraine and Russia.

From behind a glass box in the court, Ablyazov, 50, said he was "absolutely convinced" he was being prosecuted "for political reasons".

He said the accusations against him were false. "Everything was fabricated by Kazakhstan," Ablyazov said.

Legras said there was no chance he would be re-extradited to Kazakhstan if sent to Russia or Ukraine because such a move would violate international agreements.

Once close to Kazakhstan's elite, Ablyazov fell out of favour and became a foe of strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled the ex-Soviet country for 22 years.

Ablyazov was jailed in 2002 for abuse of power and illegal business activities after co-founding and leading an opposition party, in a move widely seen as a bid to silence him.

He was quickly pardoned and released, however, and worked in finance until fleeing to Britain in 2009 amid accusations of embezzlement.

He is believed to have stayed there until he was sentenced to 22 months in jail for contempt of court.

He did not surrender to the British authorities and is then thought to have moved to Italy before his arrest in the south of France.

The oligarch was arrested by 15 police officers in a dramatic raid on the villa he was renting in Mouans-Sartoux, as a helicopter hovered in case he tried to escape.

© 2013 AFP

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