A Russian court sentenced on Tuesday (29 December) the former chairman of Kazakh BTA Bank’s board of directors, Mukhtar Ablyazov, to 15 years in prison, Russian media reported. The story of Ablyazov, a fugitive for years, has been turned into a book as a striking example of the ability of post-Soviet kleptocrats to benefit from Western “hospitality”.
According to TASS, the Tagansky District Court of Moscow passed a verdict in absentia against Ablyazov, as well as the chairman of the board of BTA Bank, Roman Solodchenko, and their subordinates, Artur Trofimov, Igor Kononko, Tatyana Paraskevich, Anatoly Ereshchenko and Alexander Udovenko.
They have been found guilty of committing various crimes, and Ablyazov was sentenced to 15 years in prison, Kononko to 10 years, and Paraskevich to 12 years in prison. Ereshchenko and Udovenko were sentenced to 13 years each.
The court found that in 2006-2009 Ablyazov and his subordinates stole more than 58 billion rubles (€641 million) from the bank.
To this end, they issued loans secured by land plots acquired with borrowed funds. Subsequently, Ablyazov organised the illegal termination of the mortgage agreements, and the bank was deprived of the opportunity to foreclose on the pledged items, while the accomplices disposed of the property at their own discretion.
For many years, Ablyazov has been accused of embezzling $6 billion from BTA Bank (Bank Turan Alem) in Kazakhstan while serving as its chairman in 2005-2009. As of 2013, BTA was the third-largest lender in the country, but after being the subject of major financial fraud, the bank filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and has since been restructured.
Ablyazov had previously been considered a successful businessman and manager and served as minister of energy in 1998.
In November 2001, Ablyazov and other colleagues, including several fellow disenchanted protégés of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, co-founded the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (QDT), an opposition political movement.
In July 2002, as one of the main leaders of the QDT, Ablyazov was convicted of “abusing official powers as a minister” and sentenced to six years in prison, of which he served only ten months.
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.
For many years, he lived sumptuously in London and is said to have paid millions to opposition NGOs and media to boost his profile. But in 2012, a British judge ordered Ablyazov imprisoned for purportedly lying in court about his financial assets. He then fled Britain and established himself in France.
From July 2013 to December 2016, Ablyazov was detained by French authorities as Russia sought Ablyazov’s extradition from France. But human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as several members of the European Parliament, wrote to publicly oppose his extradition.
Several arrest warrants and court sentences have been issued for Ablyazov by various countries. A court in Kazakhstan sentenced him to 20 years in prison in June 2017.
‘Wanted Man: The Story of Mukhtar Ablyazov’, a 2019 book by journalist Gary Cartwright, exposed not only the extraordinary antics of the fugitive kleptocrat but the ease with which he manipulated – and continues to manipulate – Western courts and governments.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]