Mukhtar Ablyazov, the fugitive Kazakh billionaire wanted on corruption charges in several European countries, has agreed a deal for Belgian citizenship and immunity as the legal net tightens around him in neighboring France.
The businessman, who is wanted for stealing more than $5 billion from Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, has agreed to give evidence to the Kazakhgate commission in return for a safe haven from the authorities in Russia, Ukraine, the UK and Kazakhstan.
Sources have confirmed the businessman held a series of secret talks during the summer with Dirk Van der Maelen, the president of the Belgian commission, and he is expected to appear in front of the panel in Brussels later this month.
In return for evidence against Kazakh businessmen Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov, who are accused of paying for the Belgian criminal transaction law to be introduced in 2011, Ablyazov has been offered Belgian citizenship and immunity from prosecution, sources said. It is the second time the Belgian authorities have investigated the businessmen. The first investigation, which took place in the early 2000s, was later exposed as having been the result of a plot, hatched in a Paris hotel by Bulat Utemuratov, a rival Kazakh billionaire, and involving allegedly corrupt Belgian police officers.
Last year Ablyazov scored a temporary legal victory when a top French court overturned an earlier decision to extradite him to Russia, where he is wanted on fraud charges, on the grounds that the request was politically motivated.
However, sources have confirmed that the political winds in France are turning against the Kazakh and the businessman, who is currently living close to the French Alps in the east of the country, believes he will soon have to flee.
Ablyazov, a former minister in the Kazakh government, is accused of stealing billions from BTA, the bank he founded and where he was once chairman and majority shareholder.
The businessman, who was also a former energy minister in the Kazakh government, later founded an opposition party in Kazakhstan.
He was charged by the Kazakh authorities with stealing billions of tenge from the bank and Russia and Ukraine say its citizens were also defrauded in the collapse of the bank.
France does not have an extradition treaty with Kazakhstan, which wants to put Ablyazov on trial, but it does have such deals with Russia and Ukraine.
The billionaire previously fled the UK in 2012, where he had lived for three years, after the British authorities issued a warrant for his arrest as part of what was the biggest fraud case ever heard by the High Court in London.
Multi-billion-dollar black holes were found in BTA’s accounts in 2009 and the bank was nationalized with huge losses for lenders around the world. BTA’s receivers pursued his assets in the London High Court, seizing among others, his Carlton House mansion in London’s billionaire’s row of The Bishop’s Avenue.
In a bizarre twist to the case, his wife Alma herself was controversially deported from Italy in 2013 with her daughter Alua after police hunting Ablayazov found them travelling on fake Central African Republic passports. The pair claimed their detention was kidnapping, not a deportation, and said their passports were genuine.