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UK arrest warrant for Kazakh fugitive Mukhtar Ablyazov extended by English High Court

A Kazakh fugitive accused of committing one of the world’s biggest ever frauds has had his arrest warrant in the UK extended.

Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is alleged to have embezzled more than $6 billion from the Kazakh bank he ran, was found guilty in February 2012 of lying to the English High Court about the scale of his vast fortune.

Sentencing Ablyazov to 22 months in jail, Mr Justice Teare described Ablyazov’s contempt of court, which included concealing ownership of a £17 million mansion in London, as “serious” and “brazen”.

But days before he was sentenced, Ablyazov fled the UK for France on an overnight bus to avoid prison. He disappeared for more than a year before he was tracked down to a luxury villa on the French Riviera.

His case became the subject of legal ping-pong in the French courts until December last year when, in a devastating blow, France’s Supreme Court ruled that Ablyazov had forfeited his right to rely on the Geneva Convention and stripped him of refugee status.

Last month’s High Court’s decision to renew Ablyazov’s arrest increases the likelihood he will now face jail in the UK given he can now be extradited from France.

The High Court decision is the latest setback for the self-styled pro-democracy campaigner. In May, France’s Cour de Cassation ruled that Mukhtar Ablyazov will also face criminal trial in France over allegations he embezzled billions of dollars from BTA Bank. The ruling overturned a 2020 decision that the Statute of Limitations had passed.

Ablyazov initially sought asylum in the UK in 2009. But after fleeing to France overnight three years later, Ablyazov’s case became bogged down in the French legal system.

In 2015, then prime minister Manuel Valls signed off his extradition only for France’s Asylum Court to overrule and conclude that Ablyazov was a victim of political persecution. A court ruled in 2014 that he should be extradited and this judgement was confirmed by the Lyon Court of Appeal the following year.

The case was then sent to the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA), which ruled in 2018 that Ablyazov did not warrant political asylum. OFPRA cited Article F of the Geneva Convention, which states that “certain acts are so serious that they do not deserve international protection”.

Ablyazov appealed to the CNDA, which overturned the OFPRA decision on the grounds that the billionaire faced “risks of persecution… due to political positions”. OFPRA appealed this decision and it was referred back to the Council of State.

Despite it’s earlier support for Ablyazov, the Council of State ruled in December 2021 that the oligarch should not receive asylum status because he had set up a fraudulent scheme at BTA to “enrich himself personally”.

Ablyazov, who now portrays himself as a pro-democracy campaigner, will face trial in the next year or two and will then face extradition, most likely to the UK if his arrest warrant remains active.

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