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Mukhtar Ablyazov

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Mukhtar Ablyazov
Mukhtar.Ablyazov.jpg
Born (1963-05-16) May 16, 1963 (age 55)
Galkino Village, South Kazakhstan Region, Kazakh SSR, Soviet Union
Nationality Kazakh
Alma mater Moscow Engineering Physics Institute
Occupation Businessman
Political party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (2001–present)
Spouse(s)
Alma Shalabayeva (m. 1987)

Mukhtar Kabyluly Ablyazov Kazakh: Мұхтар Қабылұлы Әблязов, translit. Muhtar Qabyluly Ábliazov, born 16 May 1963) is a Kazakh politician, businessman, and banker accused of embezzling and mismanaging $6 billion of bank assets while serving as bank chairman in one of the biggest financial frauds in history. [1]

He was the founder of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK), a political party that disbanded in 2005. He is also the author of Ablyazov against Nazarbayev.

Ablyazov is alleged to have embezzled $6 billion from BTA Bank while serving as chairman.[1] From July 2013 to December 2016, Ablyazov was detained by French authorities,[2] as Russia sought Ablyazov's extradition from France, but Ablyazov argued that extradition would place him at risk of ill-treatment and an unfair trial.[3] Human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as many members of the European Parliament, wrote in opposition to extradition of Ablyazov.[4][5][6] In 2015, a French court in Lyon issued an extradition order.[3][7] However, in December 2016, France's highest administrative court, the Conseil d'Etat, canceled the extradition order, on the ground that Russia had a political motive in making the extradition request.[2][8] Ablyazov was released from the Fleury-Mérogis Prison.[2] Latvian MEP Iveta Grigule-Pēterse warned European Union NGOs and advocacy groups to scrutinize the source of the funds or donations received, citing Ablyazov's use of allegedly embezzled BTA Bank funds to underwrite PR campaigns to minimize Ablyazov's fraud and to present Ablysov as a political dissident.[9]

Early life and education

In 1986, Ablyazov graduated from the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute. There he earned a degree in theoretical physics.[10] After graduation, he worked as a junior researcher at the Kazakh National University.

In 1987, Ablyazov married Alma Shalabayeva.

In 1990, Ablyazov was enrolled in postgraduate studies in the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute. For that reason, he was fired from his role as a junior researcher at the Kazakh National University.

Career

Ablyazov started working during the fall of the Soviet Union and the start of Kazakhstan's Independence. His first job was the buying and selling of computers and copying machines. In 1991, Ablyazov registered his first company and called it "Madina," which is the name of his first daughter.

In 1992, Ablyazov started his business by supplying all the regions of Kazakhstan with products such as salt, sugar, flower, matches, tea, chocolate, and medicine. In order to run this business, Ablyazov established Astana Holding in Kazakhstan, a multi-sector private holding company, which established and consisted of: Astana-Sugar, Astana-Food, Aral-Salt, The Shymkent Pasta Factory, Astana-Medical Service, Astana-Motors, Astana-Interotel, Astana-Bank, Trade House Zhanna (furniture).

In 1997, Ablyazov was appointed as head of the state-owned Kazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company. KEGOC was a company close to buncruptcy at the time of his appointment as its head. In one year, he managed to make the state-owned company profitable.

In 1998, as head of KEGOC, Ablyazov was named Minister for Energy, Industry, and Trade.[11]

Ablyazov has been described by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) as “part of a younger generation” that Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, “hoped to harness as he pushed his resource-rich nation into the 21st century.” Yet after a few years, “Ablyazov and the others had broken ranks, citing disenchantment with endemic corruption in Nazarbayev's inner circle.”[10]

BTA Bank

In 1998, together with a consortium of Kazakh investors, Ablyazov acquired a loan to buy the shares in Bank Turan Alem in a privatization auction for $72 million. He later paid back the loan. The bank later came to be known as BTA Bank.

BTA Bank growth

Ablyazov served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of BTA Bank from 2005 to 2009. During Ablyazov's leadership, BTA Bank reported dynamic growth,[clarification needed] and became one of the most promising banks in the CIS. By 2008, BTA Bank had grown to become the leader in the emerging markets, the fourth-largest bank among the CIS countries, and one of the three fastest-growing banks in the world. In 2007, Euromoney magazine named BTA Bank the best bank in Central Asia and in 2008 BTA Bank received the Global Finance award.[12]

At the same time, between 2006 and 2008, Mukhtar Ablyazov had been pressured by the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to transfer 50% of shares of BTA Bank to the state. Ablyazov refused to transfer the bank's assets into the control of Nazarbayev, and, as a result, in February 2009, the bank was nationalised under the pretext of the need to save the banking sector from bankruptcy.

In 2008, BTA Bank was the largest commercial financial institution in Kazakhstan, with internal reserves allowing for cooperation with foreign and domestic owners of the shares. At the same time, BTA Bank was the largest creditor of the Kazakh economy – the bank owned about 30% of all the loans granted to legal entities. The control over BTA Bank has been illegally adopted by the National Welfare Fund ‘Samruk-Kazyna’, a holding company owned entirely by the state, despite the healthy condition of the bank. Timur Kulibayev, Nazarbayev’s son-in-law, was the president of this fund.[13]

BTA Bank bankruptcy

In 2010 a US bankruptcy judge granted BTA Bank Chapter 15 protection while it worked to restructure $11.6 billion owed to foreign creditors as a result of loans made while Ablyazov was chairman.[14]

In September 2009, Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund, Samruk-Kazyna, injected significant funds into BTA in an effort to keep the bank solvent, effectively becoming its majority shareholder.[15] Shortly before Samruk-Kazyna's intervention Ablyazov fled Kazakhstan to London.

Alleged fraud charges

While Chairman of BTA Bank, Ablyazov is alleged to have embezzled or misappropriated up to $6 billion into shell companies and offshore bank accounts.[16] Ablyazov's case is one of the largest financial fraud cases in history.[1] Ablyazov stated that BTA Bank assets were concealed to guard against forced nationalization.[17] Judge Sir Nigel John Martin Teare said that Ablyazov had committed a “fraud on an epic scale” through use of offshore holding companies.[18]

INTERPOL Red Notice

INTERPOL Red Notice for Ablyazov

INTERPOL issued a Red Notice arrest warrant for Ablyazov, which was basis for his arrest by French authorities in 2013.[19] Interpol said Ablyazov was wanted in Russia on separate charges for "large scale fraud,” money laundering and document forgery.[20] Interpol withdrew the red notice in July 2017.[citation needed]

Court proceedings

English High Court of Justice

24 March 2009 BTA Bank launched legal proceedings against Ablyazov in the UK High Court shortly after his arrival in London.[21]

Ablyazov was the subject of seven legal claims in the English High Court totalling $3.7 billion (£2.26 billion).[22]

The first decision that Ablyazov lost in the UK courts was passed down by William Blair, brother of Tony Blair. Shortly after, Tony Blair was hired by Nazarbayev to be an economic advisor. Tony Blair was paid a multi-million dollar salary.

In October 2010, Ablyazov lost a legal fight to prevent his assets from being subject to a receivership order. The ruling came after Justice Teare stated that Ablyazov “cannot be trusted” not to dissipate his assets prior to trial.[23]

Ablyazov argued, in his defense, that the takeover of BTA Bank by Samruk-Kazyna in February 2009 was “the culmination of the campaign by President Nazarbayev and his allies to wrest ownership and control of [BTA] from [Ablyazov].”[24]

In a May 2011 letter, Ablyazov accused Nazarbaev and his advisor Bulat Utemuratov of being the real owners of a 48.73% share in Kazzinc, a firm that Glencore International was planning to buy at the time. Ablyazov wrote that “in 2005-2009, when Mr. Utemuratov was blackmailing me on behalf of” Nazarbaev, demanding a share in BTA Bank, “he asked me to transfer the stocks to the companies that control KazZink now.” Ablyazov said that he had testified to this effect in a London court.[25] Ablyazov was granted asylum in the UK in July 2011, a recognition that he would face political persecution if sent back to Kazakhstan.[26] Kazakhstan's request for his extradition was ignored.[27] According to the Daily Telegraph, the Kazakh government threatened to punish British firms by awarding lucrative contracts to China if the UK granted Ablyazov asylum.[28]

In early 2012, Kazakh authorities sought to impliciate Ablyazov in an alleged terror plot. One report suggested that an “obvious reason for trying to nail Ablyazov” was that “unlike other political figures in exile, he has a presence inside Kazakhstan through his links to an opposition group and local media outlets.” The accusation was, according to this report, “designed to tarnish his reputation – and that of his associates, too – in the eyes of the international community,” as well as to provide “a useful distraction from the embarrassment which the government suffered after violence in the western town of Janaozen in December [2011], in which its police force is accused of opening fire on protesters, killing 14 and injuring over 100.” The report said that “authorities seem dead set on eliminating Ablyazov’s capacity to exert any influence in Kazakstan (sic).”[29]

In November 2012, a U.K. court ordered Mukhtar Ablyazov to pay £1.02 bln ($1.63 bln) plus interest. The court also ordered "new post-judgment asset-freezing orders be made against Mr. Ablyazov in an unlimited sum and new asset-freezing orders in relation to certain other defendants."[30]

Criminal Court of Kazakhstan

Mukhtar Ablyazov was sentenced to 20 years in prison in June 2017.[31] An appeals court upheld the indictment for criminal conspiracy, embezzlement and money laundering.[32]

Southern District of New York

City of Almaty, Kazahkstan v. Mukhtar Ablyazov was filed on July 9, 2015 in the Southern District of New York federal court with Judge Alison Julie Nathan presiding.[33] Court documents show that the Plaintiffs are seeking to depose Ablyazov in New York, the UK, Spain or France, and that Ablyazov has not yet produced documents in discovery effectively stonewalling the court.[34]

Money Laundering through New York City Real Estate

A 2015 suit to recover embezzled funds was filed in the Southern District of New York listing Ablyazov, Viktor Khrapunov, Joseph Chetrit and The Chetrit Group as defendants.[35] The suit alleged that the Chetrit Group helped Ablyazov and Khrapunov hide $40 million in two condo conversion projects.[36] The Chetrit Group went on to settle with the Plaintiffs (the city of Almaty and BTA Bank) and became witnesses for the prosecution.[36]

Silk Road Group

While Ablyazov was BTA Chairman, the bank partnered on investment projects in Georgia with the Silk Road Group,[37] a company with a history of alleged financial fraud and money laundering.[18] During Ablyazov's chairmanship, and at the time of alleged financial mismanagement, BTA Bank loans were made to Silk Road Group projects or Silk Road Group owned-companies.[18] In 2014 Silk Road Group collaborated with former BTA Bank executive Yerkin Tatishev and Ablyazov business partner to repay outstanding BTA Bank loans.[18] He and the Silk Road Group co-owned a Georgian bank creating a conflict of interest.[18] The SilK Road Group was revealed to be a client of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which specialized in offshore corporate structuring, accounting for purpose of sanction and tax evasion, and subject of the Panama Papers.[38] The Silk Road Group entered an agreement with the Trump Organization to license the Trump brand for two luxury developments in Batumi and Tbilisi, Georgia.[39] The deal was cancelled when Trump became president to avoid a conflict of interest. The Silk Road Group received loans from BTA Bank while Ablyazov was bank chairman, and Trump Organization involvement with SRG may be subject of Robert Mueller investigation into collusion with the Russian government and the Trump campaign.[40]

Alleged Murder for Hire

The man convicted of manslaughter for accidentally shooting banker Yerzhan Tatishev on a hunting trip in 2004 said in a 2017 television documentary that he was in fact hired by Ablyazov to kill Tatishev.[41] [42] Tatishev was Ablyazov's BTA Bank partner and shareholder.[43]

Political career

In November 2001, Ablyazov and other colleagues, including fellow disenchanted proteges of Nazarbaev, co-founded the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK), an opposition political movement that challenged the Nazarbayev regime. The DCK included a combination of existing politicians and major businessmen and called for the decentralisation of political power, a strong legislature, and an independent judiciary to balance the power concentrated in the executive branch. This opposition initiative, according to RFE/RL, “quickly drew the wrath of the regime.”[10]

In July 2002, as one of the main leaders of the DCK, Ablyazov was convicted of “abusing official powers as a minister” and sentenced to six years in prison. Also sent to prison were his fellow would-be reformers and former Nazarbaev proteges Galymzhan Zhakiyanov and Altynbek Sarsenbaev.[10]

In response to pressure from the international community, including Amnesty International and the European Parliament,[44] he was released in May 2003 after only serving ten months, on the condition that he renounce politics.[11]

Ablyazov moved to Moscow in 2003 to rebuild his business ties and in 2005 became the Chairman of the Board of Directors of BTA Bank.

After his release from prison, Ablyazov reportedly spent “millions of dollars funding opposition groups and independent media.” RFE/RL has quoted Yevgeny Zhovtis, head of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, as saying that “Nazarbaev to a certain extent felt betrayed” by Ablyazov and the others, given that “he thinks that he provided them the space to become wealthy, to become well-known, to make a career in state service or in business, and they challenged him. When he pardoned Ablyazov in 2003 and allowed him to return to business in exchange for a promise not to be involved in politics and then found out that he was again involved in politics, of course Nazarbaev felt betrayed twice.”[10]

While living in Russia and Kazakhstan, Ablyazov was the target of assassination attempts and an effort was made to kidnap his son from school.[45]

BTA Bank efforts

Shortly thereafter, Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund, Samruk-Kazyna, injected significant funds into BTA in an effort to keep the bank solvent, effectively becoming its majority shareholder.[15]

It has been argued that BTA Bank “threatened to dominate the other Kazakh banks – banks that Nazarbayev controlled” and that the bank's forced nationalization in 2009 was part of an effort by Nazarbayev “to dispose of Ablyazov.”[46]

Living in United Kingdom

Following the issuing of the Kazakh warrant, Ablyazov left Kazakhstan for London.[47] This made him, according to RFE/RL, one of “dozens of former high-ranking Kazakh officials who have fled abroad after falling out of favor.”[10]

During his time in London, Ablyazov told The Standard that he was an “innocent...victim of persecution” by Nazarbaev and was “in fear of his life from his country's secret police, the KNB.”[45] Claiming to be innocent of all charges, he “employed tight security to protect him from murder attempts” while living in London.[48] Once, while he was being driven in London, a car “rammed his vehicle repeatedly.”[45]

While in Britain, Ablyazov maintained close ties to opposition media in Kazakhstan. RFE/RL has noted that in 2011, the broadcaster K+ and the newspapers Vzglyad and Golos Respubliki, along with other private Kazakh media with ties to Ablyazov, “gave full-scale coverage to the bloody police crackdown on striking oil workers in the western city of Zhanaozen.” Not long after, Kazakh courts ordered these media outlets closed, along with the opposition Algha party, headed by Avladimir Kozlov, an Ablyazov ally, who was sentenced to a long prison term. The Nazarbaev regime reportedly considered Ablyazov to be implicated in these media outlets' critical coverage of the regime.[10]

Also during his time in Britain, Ablyazov was the main source of funding for Aksara, an independent theater company whose productions challenge the Nazarbaev regime and seek to provide an alternative to the state-subsidized theater, which toes the government line.[49]

In 2012, a British judge ordered Ablyazov imprisoned for purportedly lying in court about his financial assets.[50] Shortly thereafter, Ablyazov left Britain. It was charged that he exited the country in order to avoid imprisonment. His lawyers, however, said that he left because he had received a death threat. The lawyers further maintained that Ablyazov “did not embezzle the $6 billion claimed by the Kazakh government, but restructured the bank's holdings in order to protect them from precisely the kind of government takeover that took place in 2009.”[10]

Since his departure from Britain, it has been unclear where Ablyazov is living, although he was widely believed to have gone to France.[51]

Deportation of Ablyazov's wife and daughter

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the explanation for this action was that Nazarbaev was taking them as “political hostages.” Ablyazov’s oldest daughter, Madina, told RFE/RL that Nazarbaev wants to get his hands on Ablyazov. “Not as a hostage. Probably, the minute they have him, they will just kill him. They want to kill him, because my father is the biggest opponent for the president.”[10] Ablyazov's lawyer, Riccardo Olivo, rejected the claim that Ablyazov's wife and child had false papers, saying that both of them had “valid Kazakh passports and EU residency permits issued by Latvia.”

Olivio also charged that their rapid deportation from Italy “raised suspicions that Italian and Kazakh authorities had colluded on the deal.” A lawyer close to the Ablyazov family said: “A person could get arrested committing a violent crime in broad daylight and get better due process than they did.” Italy's Justice Ministry claims to have been unaware of the arrests and deportation until after the fact; Emma Bonino, the Italian Foreign Minister, has called the operation “abnormal.” Ablyazov, for his part, accused Nazarbaev of “kidnapping” his wife and child and of employing “outright terrorist tactics.”[52]

The Italian media blamed the Interior Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, Angelino Alfano simultaneously,, for the illegal deportation. He is also a member of the centre-right party ‘The People of Freedom’ headed by Silvio Berlusconi, known for his friendly relations with the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, expressed his stark criticism of the deportation of Alma Shalabayeva. He noted that the decision to deport her was made without necessary verification or thorough examination of the situation by the Italian bodies: “For any country, it is unacceptable to give in to the pressure and interference of foreign diplomacy, which resulted in the hasty expulsion of a mother and child from Italy on the basis of distorted information. I also believe that we need to fully guarantee fundamental rights of persons, regardless of the status which they have in our country”.

On 24 December 2013, a representative of the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a change in the restriction of liberty measure for Alma Shalabayeva and the withdrawal of her prohibition from leaving Almaty. Shalabayeva and her daughter, Alua received their passports and left Kazakhstan.

On 18 April 2014, the Italian authorities granted Ablyazov’s wife and daughter refugee status. Alma and Alua received a 5-year renewable permit of stay. The decision on the award of refugee status was made by the Territorial Commission in Rome for Recognition of International Protection, under Article 1 of the Geneva Convention.

Ablyazov supporters

From July 2013 to December 2016, Ablyazov was detained by French authorities,[2] as Russia sought Ablyazov's extradition from France, but Ablyazov argued that extradition would place him at risk of ill-treatment and an unfair trial.[3] Human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as many members of the European Parliament, wrote in opposition to extradition of Ablyazov.[4][5] In 2015, a French court in Lyon issued an extradition order.[3][7] However, in December 2016, France's highest administrative court, the Conseil d'Etat, canceled the extradition order, on the ground that Russia had a political motive in making the extradition request.[2][8] Ablyazov was released from the Fleury-Merogis prison.[2]

Personal life

During his time in London, Ablyazov was described as not fitting “the Western stereotype of the fabulously wealthy businessman from the old Soviet Union. No bling, no yachts, no trophy wife and no ostentatious cars, he cuts a modest figure, favouring Marks and Spencer suits.”[45] However, a High Court judge held Ablyazov in contempt and imposed three prison sentences for failing to disclose assets including a nine bedroom mansion in London's "Billionaire's Row" and a 100-acre estate in Windsor Great Park. He rented a 15,000 square foot mansion on Bishop's Avenue in London.[53]

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