Kasparov to testify in France against Kazakh tycoon's extradition

16th October 2014, Comments 0 comments

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 July last year and France has since been grappling with the vast and tangled case of what to do with the 51-year-old.

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 in a court hearing 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."

However "the court could refuse" to allow Kasparov to appear as a witness in the case, which is unheard of in extradition hearings in France, one of Ablyazov's lawyers Bruno Rebstock said.

- Villain or victim? -

Ablyazov was once a member of the inner circle of the Kazakhstan elite and served as energy and trade minister before his fall from grace.

He 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 became chief executive of the BTA bank, which was nationalised in 2009 after facing collapse when the global financial crisis struck.

Soon after, Ablyazov fled to Britain over accusations he had stolen billions of dollars in state and investors' funds from the bank, which also had interests in Ukraine and Russia.

However he did not have an easy time in London where his passport was seized and assets frozen as BTA filed numerous civil claims against him.

He fled London sometime in 2012 after he was sentenced to 22 months in jail for contempt of court for trying to hide assets.

He is then thought to have moved to Italy before private detectives tracked him to a villa in the south of France.

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 an appeals court blocked the extradition.

The Ukraine extradition request was subsequently heard separately on September 25 and prosecutors said they were in favour. The Russian request will be heard Friday in the southeastern city of Lyon.

- 'Pawn in Putin's game' -

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 -- believe 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 prompted Russia to annex Crimea and throw support behind rebels in eastern Ukraine.

© 2014 AFP

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