jail for fugitive Ablyazov By
The fugitive Kazakh
banker Mukhtar Ablyazov, accused of embezzling
US$5 billion from Kazakhstan's BTA bank, was
sentenced on February 16 to 22 months in prison
for failing to disclose his assets and lying under
oath to the High Court of England and Wales.
Justice Nigel Teare concluded that
Ablyazov had breached a court-ordered freeze on
his assets, presented "untrue" evidence about
property ownership and provided evidence "with the
intention of interfering with or impeding the
course of justice".
The Justice qualified
Ablyazov's breaches as "deliberate" and
"substantial", describing his conduct as "brazen".
The court has
issued arrest warrants,
but lawyers of BTA bank believe that Ablyazov, who
failed to appear at the hearing in London, may
have already fled England.
management of BTA brought the contempt of court
case against the former bank chairman Ablyazov in
May 2011 to prevent him from dispersing or
transferring his assets, which the court had put
under KPMG receivership in 2010.
hearing was only one part of the legal proceedings
on nine separate fraud charges launched by BTA
against Ablyazov, who absconded to Britain after
the bank collapsed in 2009. The trial has been
unprecedented in the English courts, involving
more than 100 court hearings in front of five
judges, engaging more than 50 leading lawyers,
including 22 partners and 32 barristers.
former Minister of Energy, Industry and Trade in
Kazakhstan in 1998-99, Ablyazov has maintained
that he is a victim of repression and persecution
as a political opponent of President Nursultan
Nazarbayev, whose power he challenged by
establishing the opposition party Democratic
Choice of Kazakhstan in 2001.
convicted for illegal business activities as well
as abuse of power as a government minister and
sentenced to six years in prison in 2002, but
released 10 months later after writing a plea to
the president and using the support of influential
Ablyazov was chairman of the
board of directors of BTA bank, the largest lender
in Kazakhstan, from 2005 to 2009. At the beginning
of 2009, when the bank became insolvent, with
debts amounting to $12 billion, the Kazakh
government transferred its management to the
national sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna.
Among the financial institutions affected by the
downfall of BTA were Barclays, Standard Chartered,
Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, JPMorgan, Merrill
Lynch and Morgan Stanley.
government bailed out the troubled bank as it did
several other banks affected by the financial
crunch. The new bank management, however, soon
discovered that BTA's assets had been siphoned
through an elaborate scheme of fake loans to bogus
companies owned by Ablyazov. As a criminal case
was launched against Ablyazov, he fled to England
together with Zhaksylyk Zharimbetov, the former
first deputy chair of the bank's managing board,
and Roman Solodchenko, the chair of the managing
In January 2011, Kazakhstan's
Prosecutor General's Office sent an official
request for the arrest and extradition of the
former chief of BTA bank charged with large-scale
fraud and embezzlement. Instead, the UK Home
Office granted Ablyazov political asylum in July
2011, a decision that caused tensions between
London and Astana.
embezzlement at BTA Bank has resulted in criminal
charges against former BTA managers in several CIS
countries including Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine
and Kyrgyzstan. In October 2010, a Moscow court
issued a warrant for the arrest of Ablyazov for
exceptionally large fraud. Four managers of his
company Eurasia Logistics were arrested in Moscow
in March 2010 and charged with the embezzlement of
$2 billion in Kazakh investments.
by snowballing legal problems, Ablyazov complained
to his lawyer about England's judicial system. He
was quoted as saying "the English seem to have
limited understanding of what Kazakhstan is ... ".
The extent of the theft, described by
Justice Teare as "fraud on an epic scale", and
Ablyazov's blatant disregard for the English court
have discredited the former banker and weakened
his claims about political repression at home.
Ablyazov has been trying to portray himself as a
democrat and proponent of the rule of law - a
genuine alternative to Nazarbayev - but has at the
same time fallen foul of the law in a country with
a well-established legal system.
Kazakh government has stated that Ablyazov sought
to divide the political and business elite in the
country and destabilize the largest Central Asian
republic from exile through the newspaper
Respublika and the satellite K-Plus TV channel.
He also has supported financially the
unregistered political party Alga! and the
Communist Party, which established the People's
Front in late 2011. The well-known activist and
stage director Bolat Atabayev announced publicly
at a press conference in Almaty that Ablyazov has
been financing the opposition for more than 10
Ablyazov has distributed many
appeals to the population to resist the Nazarbayev
government and demanded the president's
resignation, including a passionate appeal last
August to striking oil workers in Zhanaozen. "The
world has changed," the statement read months
before the bloody clashes in Zhanaozen that left
17 dead. "No one will forgive him the bloodshed
and Nazarbayev and his family will have nowhere to
flee." Kazakh authorities now are investigating
whether Ablyazov channeled funds to the striking
oilmen, which he denies.
a few days before his arrest was ordered in
England, the man responsible for the collapse of
BTA made a business offer to Nazarbayev, stating
in a letter his readiness to take over management
of BTA bank again and bring the bank back to its
previous leading position within five years.
Margarita Assenova is a
professional journalist and political analyst with
over 25 years of experience in print and broadcast
media, including Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty.
In 1997 she was awarded the John Knight
Professional Journalism Fellowship at Stanford
University for her reporting on nationalism in the
Balkans. Assenova has authored book chapters on
security, energy and democracy published by CSIS
Press, Brassey's, Freedom House, and Bertelsmann