France to extradite Kazakh banker
A French court has ordered the extradition of a Kazakh banker turned dissident who is accused of siphoning off billions of dollars before fleeing his homeland.
The court in Aix-en-Provence agreed today to extradition requests from Russia and Ukraine, which had branches of Mukhtar Ablyazov's BTA Bank. Mr Ablyazov's lawyers said they would appeal immediately.
France has no extradition agreement with Kazakhstan.
Mr Ablyazoz was once Kazakhstan's energy minister but turned against long-time President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Freed from prison in Kazakhstan, Mr Ablyazov received political asylum in Britain in 2011 but fled from there days before he was convicted of contempt of court. He was detained in France in July.
BTA Bank, now nationalised, says at least six billion dollars (£3.65bn) is missing and accuses Mr Ablyazov of misappropriating the money. He calls the allegations political.
His family and lawyers say they fear he will ultimately be returned to his homeland via Russia or Ukraine, which do have extradition deals with Kazakhstan.
Peter Sahlas, a lawyer for Mr Ablyazov, condemned the French decision as flawed. "This court wants to send Ablyazov, a refugee, straight to the very people he should be protected from," he said.
The banker's wife, Alma Shalabayeva, agreed. "For my husband, extradition is a death sentence. If he is extradited, he will never see me or our four children ever again," she said in a statement.
BTA welcomed the French decision, saying it "demonstrates once again that Mr Ablyazov's repeated attempts to portray himself as being pursued by the bank for political reasons are groundless".
Legal troubles have followed Mr Ablyazov since BTA Bank was nationalised and he left Kazakhstan. In his absence, BTA has won multiple judgments against him in British courts.
Ms Shalabayeva was recently permitted to return to Western Europe after being forcibly removed from Italy along with their six-year-old daughter. The expulsion of Ms Shalabayeva to Kazakhstan embarrassed Italy's government, which acknowledged it had botched the operation and then pressed quietly for her return.