Mukhtar Ablyazov, the Kazakh billionaire who has secured a deal for Belgian citizenship, is being investigated for the assassination of his former business partner after a new independent forensic investigation into the death.
The fugitive former banker has hit out angrily at the claims after a businessman with links to organised crime admitted he had shot Yerzhan Tatishev on Ablyazov’s orders and made it look like a hunting accident.
Speaking on Kazakh television, Muratkhan Tokmadi described how over several meetings the pair discussed “the elimination of Yerzhan” and how Ablyazov persuaded him to carry out the hit and make it “look like an accidental killing”.
Ablyazov, who is temporarily resident in France, has dismissed the claims, saying he has never met Tokmadi and that the Kazakh government had forced the killer to falsely testify against him.
However, forensic evidence uncovered by American scientists reveals for the first time how the murder weapon was subtly altered while in police custody to make it look like it was faulty at the time of Tatishev’s death.
The report states: “Almost thirteen years after the fatal incident, the weapon has been examined by an independent government firearms and medical examiner who was able to determine under magnification that the weapon has been tampered with so as to allow accidental discharge.”
The report proves beyond doubt that Tatishev, who ran one of Kazakhstan’s biggest banks, was murdered with a shot to the back of his head as he drove his jeep during a hunting trip and that “the shotgun was fired by a person seated in the rear passenger area”.
The banker already feared for his life after a number of earlier assassination attempts and “was so concerned that he routinely changed his cell phone sim cards and travel patterns to and from work and replaced his security team” so as to avoid any possibility of an inside job.
Tokmadi, who had befriended the tycoon through their shared love of hunting and was sitting on the back seat of the jeep, was previously found guilty of killing Tatishev but claimed the shotgun had gone off by accident and was sentenced to just one year in prison.
The American forensic report includes new blood spatter analysis, forensic examination of the gun and a reconstruction of the crime scene which prove that the former president of BTA Bank was murdered.
It shows that when the gun was initially examined by police it was found to be in perfect working order but later examinations found it was “tampered with so as to allow accidental discharge”.
The report says the firing mechanism in the shotgun was expertly altered after it was taken into police custody and this was carried out “by a professional”, most likely a corrupt police officer acting for those behind the crime.
At the time of Tatishev’s death in 2004 there was widespread speculation that he had been killed by business rivals but the rumours were dismissed by the bank.
This version of events was supported by US State Department officials who concluded in an official report, later leaked on Wikileaks, that “the fate of BTA and of Tatishev’s 24% share will, most likely, prove the best explanation to his untimely death”.
Shortly after Tatishev’s murder Ablyazov took control of BTA Bank which became Kazakhstan’s biggest, flourishing in an era of cheap capital and borrowing heavily on international financial markets.
During this period Ablyazov sold billions of dollars of bonds and borrowed from banks including Credit Suisse and JP Morgan Chase and then used a unit within BTA to lend the money to projects throughout the former Soviet bloc, according to judgements entered by UK courts.
The borrowers were shell companies controlled by Ablyazov, the judges concluded. They said he siphoned so much capital out of BTA Bank that by the time the global financial crisis struck in 2008, the lender was crippled.
As the Kazakh government moved to bail out the banking sector, BTA resisted and was taken over by force in early 2009 and Ablyazov fled to London.
The bank’s new state owners soon discovered a US$6 billion hole in the books and launched proceedings against the tycoon. In 2012 Ablyazov disappeared to escape what was the biggest ever fraud case to be heard by London’s High Court after he was handed a prison sentence for contempt of court.
BTA’s receivers pursued his assets, seizing a mansion in The Bishop’s Avenue, London’s billionaire row and a year later private investigators discovered him living in the south of France.
In 2015 the French authorities ordered that he be extradited to Russia, where he is also wanted on fraud charges, but last year the tycoon succeeded in having the ruling overturned by a court on the grounds that the request was politically motivated.
The new evidence of his involvement in the murder of his former business partner comes at a delicate moment for Belgian political leaders who have offered Ablyazov citizenship and immunity from prosecution in return for cooperation with its Kazakhgate inquiry.
The businessman has agreed to give evidence early in the new year against two Kazakh businessmen accused of paying bribes to secure citizenship in the country in the late 1990s and for the introduction of Belgium’s criminal transaction law in 2011.