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France drops legal probe against Kazakh opposition figure

Published on January 13, 2022

France has dropped an embezzlement probe against a leading Paris-based Kazakh opposition figure who called for the overthrow of the Central Asian country’s regime during protests this month.

The probe against Mukhtar Ablyazov has been abandoned by a Paris appeals court due to the statute of limitations, his lawyer Karim Beylouni told AFP, hailing a “very good victory”.

In a statement issued through his representative, Ablyazov added: “I am relieved by this decision, which finally gives me the opportunity to devote all my energy to my political fight for freedom and democracy in my country.”

Kazakhstan, which accuses Ablyazov of having embezzled $7.5 billion when he was chief executive of the BTA bank ahead of its nationalisation in 2009, had filed a complaint against him in Paris in 2017.

He was charged with money laundering in 2020 but allowed to remain free, living in Paris where he leads opposition party The Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan.

Representing the BTA Bank, lawyer Elena Fedorova condemned an “astonishing” decision and said it would now be taken to the Court of Cassation, presenting Ablyazov with a final legal hurdle.

Ablyazov, a former minister under long-time leader Nursultan Nazarbayev who then fell out with the regime, has always denied the accusations, which he contended were the result of Kazakh pressure on the French authorities.

In 2016, France’s highest administrative authority the Council of State blocked Ablyazov’s extradition, considering that it been requested “for a political purpose”.

Just before he was charged, French authorities had granted him refugee status in France, noting the political nature of the accusations.

In 2017, Kazakhstan sentenced him in absentia to 20 years in prison over the embezzlement case.

The following year, a Kazakh court sentenced him to life in prison on charges of ordering the murder of a business associate in 2004, although initial investigations had concluded it was a hunting accident.

He has vociferously denounced the Kazakh authorities in the unrest this month, hailing the protests as a “revolution” against Nazarbayev and his hand-picked successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

Ablyazov told AFP in an interview in Paris on January 6 that “the regime is at its end” and it is “only a question now of how long.”

Authorities have since regained control over the situation, although Nazarbayev has still yet to appear in public since the unrest began.

In his statement on Thursday, Ablyazov described the events as a “first step” but warned that “the path to freedom will be long”.

He said that, while Tokayev’s rule was “fragile”, the international community was not putting pressure on him.

“But the determination of the opposition is intact,” he added.