Kasparov to testify in France against Kazakh tycoon's extradition
Chess legend Garry Kasparov said Thursday he planned to testify in a French court against the extradition of exiled Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov to Russia.
Ablyazov, a former minister and banker turned fugitive, is wanted by Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan on embezzlement charges which he says were trumped up by his arch-foe, the president of his oil-rich nation, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
After months on the run he was arrested on the French Riviera last July and France has been grappling with the vast and tangled case of what to do with the 51-year-old ever since.
Kasparov, a former chess world champion and highly vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he was asked by Ablyazov's family and legal team to testify on Friday.
He said he had little knowledge of the legal details of the case, but would offer testimony on the likely fate that would await Ablyazov should he be extradited to Russia.
"I think it will be a joke, a very bad joke, if the court accepts Russia's assurance about Ablyazov's safety," said Kasparov.
Drawing on his knowledge of the treatment of other political opponents at the hands of Russia, he said the extradition of Ablyazov would be a "gross violation of his rights."
Kasparov said Russia had no qualms about reneging on its international obligations, referring to Moscow's role in "sponsoring a war" in eastern Ukraine.
Both Kasparov and Ablyazov's daughter Marina -- also present at the press conference -- said there was no doubt Moscow would hand the oligarch over to Kazakhstan.
The chess master said Ablyazov "will be a pawn in (Putin's) political game with Nazarbayev."
He said Putin "needs Nazarbayev's support in Crimea, Ukraine and major geopolitical issues."
Kazakhstan is part of a Russian-led economic union, along with Belarus, championed by Putin as he seeks to restore ties between the remnants of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine's rejection of this union in favour of closer ties with the EU -- the subject of a bloody revolution in Kiev last winter -- prompted Russia to annex Crimea and throw support behind rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Ablyazov is accused of having stolen billions of dollars in state and investors' funds while leading the Kazakh BTA Bank, which also had interests in Ukraine and Russia.
In January a French court approved his extradition, ruling that Russia's request should take priority as the scale of the embezzlement alleged by Moscow ($5 billion) was far greater than that alleged by Ukraine ($400 million).
However in April the Court of Cassation (an appeals court that rules on points of law) blocked the extradition and the matter will now be heard again by a lower court in the southeastern city of Lyon.
One of Ablyazov's lawyers Bruno Rebstock said while not illegal, it was unheard of in France for witnesses to be called in extradition cases.
"The court could refuse" he said, but the legal team was hoping that Kasparov's notoriety and experience of Russia would convince the court otherwise.
© 2014 AFP