Over the last couple of weeks, the Italian papers have all carried front page news about the “Kazakh Crime Story”. The man at the heart of this story is Mukhtar Ablyazov. The Italian papers have given his statements ample space. Yet, the Italian public knows very little about his life, business affairs, and political opinions; nor is there more understanding about the crimes for which he is hunted by the authorities of no less than five countries. As Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Italy, I believe that it is my duty to provide this information, considering that Mr. Ablyazov, a Kazakh citizen, has triggered an internal crisis of the Italian Government, a country with which Kazakhstan has a long-standing relationship of mutual support and friendship of strategic importance, both in terms of political and economic partnership.
Mr. Ablyazov has portrayed himself as a “dissident” and as an “opposition leader”. He is neither. On the contrary, he is a convicted criminal and a fugitive from the justice authorities of five different countries. Let us look into the individual claims with a degree of objective and dispassionate scrutiny.
Mr. Ablyazov is a self-appointed “leader of the opposition”. To be a leader of something, and in particular of a political movement or opposition, one needs a following, Ablyazov does not have a following apart from a few individuals directly on his payroll. There is a legitimate and very active opposition in Kazakhstan and several parties of the opposition secured seats in the national Parliament during the last round of elections; none of those, however, recognize Ablyazov as their leader. There are also several hundred independent media in Kazakhstan, only a couple of which are supportive of Ablyazov, for the simple reason that they are funded by him. This is not a result of political leadership on his part. In other words, Mr. Ablyazov has a couple of media on his payroll, but this hardly makes him a leader. In short, apart from buying limited influence in Kazakhstan and causing damage with a well-funded PR campaign abroad, there is very little that would make Mr. Ablayzov qualify as a dissident, let alone a “leader of the opposition” in Kazakhstan. Nor is he a “dissident”. Mr. Ablyazov benefited for the better part of his life from the political system, was indeed part of it including holding a Ministerial position, and was then caught stealing from his country, at which point he declared himself an “opposition leader” to the Government and fled Kazakhstan. This is hardly the career path of a genuine opposition leader.
Nor did Mr. Ablyazov stop his criminal activities once he fled Kazakhstan. To recapitulate, Ablyazov has been on the run from Kazakhstani authorities since 2009, after the BTA Bank, the bank he chaired, was found to have an estimated $15 billion hole in its accounts, money which he is believed to have embezzled damaging thousands of small shareholders. So, in Kazakhstan, he is facing criminal cases related to the fraud and misuse of BTA Bank funds, involvement in an organized criminal group and money laundering for which an international arrest warrant was issued on 6th March 2009. At the same time, Russian and Ukrainian authorities have issued separate arrest warrants for related crimes. The authorities of the neighboring Kyrgyz Republic have also recently taken action against immigration officials who had issued an illegal Kyrgyz passport to Mr. Ablyazov and others in exchange for bribes.
The BTA Bank has also pursued a civil court case in the United Kingdom, where Ablyazov had relocated. The BTA Bank recently won judgments in the London High Court to recover US$4 billion of assets he was proved to have misappropriated. Ablyazov fled the UK after a British judge sentenced him to 22 months in prison for contempt of court for attempting to conceal the stolen assets and obstruct the investigation – a judgment upheld by the UK’s Supreme Court on appeal.
In short, Mr. Ablyazov is a fugitive from justice in five different countries for crimes ranging from the embezzlement of US$15 billion in Kazakhstan to contempt of court in the UK. He is a criminal on the run and it is good to keep this in mind when his statements and interviews are reported on, especially when, as he did in a recent interview, Mukhtar Ablyazov gives himself the right to engage directly with the Prime Minister of Italy.