Kazakh Billionaire Mukhtar Ablyazov Suffers Setback after Setback
A Facebook page reportedly managed by or at least linked to Mukhtar Ablyazov, a Kazakh businessman and fugitive, is busy these days, routinely posting criticisms of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, several posts have also criticized the Kazakhstani government, arguing that it is helping Moscow evade sanctions.
Criticism of any government regarding their stance on the war is fair, but it is problematic when Ablyazov does it, as he is accused of embezzling around $7.5 billion from his country.
Ablyazov is the former chairman of BTA Bank and a former energy minister. The case against Ablyazov is fascinating from an international legal perspective, as several governments are involved.
The most recent legal developments regarding this complex case occurred in early March. His former employer in a March press release explained that several U.S. courts have ruled against Ablyazov and he has been ordered to repay Kazakhstan billions of dollars.
Apart from the recent judgment by a U.S. court, a Russian court also found Ablyazov guilty in absentia in December 2020. He was sentenced to 15 years for the embezzlement of $790 million, between 2006 and 2009. As for Ablyazov’s legal woes in Kazakhstan, in 2017 he was sentenced in absentia to 20 years for embezzlement. Moreover, in November 2018, he was found guilty of ordering the murder of Yerzhan Tatishev, a banker and a former business partner in 2004. Ablyazov was sentenced to life in prison.
Ablyazov fled Kazakhstan to London, where he received asylum, and from there to France. French authorities also granted him political asylum in 2020. It is highly unlikely that Ablyazov will be extradited to Kazakhstan.
Ablyazov has denied all the charges against him. He considers himself an opposition leader and is a frequent critic of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the current president. He is the leader of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, which authorities have labeled an extremist group. Ablyazov also owns a news company, 1612 Info, which has an active social media presence.
Did Ablyazov play a role in the January protests?
Back in January, massive protests broke out in Kazakhstan, starting in the Mangystau region and then expanding to major cities. In an interview with Reuters as the protests expanded, Ablyazov explained: “When the number of protesters reaches the necessary numbers, when the [presidential] residence is captured, I will come and head the interim government. To do this we have supporters and activists in Kazakhstan that way for me…I intend to head the interim government for six months, then hold a parliamentary election…creating [a] parliamentary republic without presidents. This is the action program I announce.”
Nevertheless, it seems that Ablyazov’s role in the protests was more limited than he proclaimed. The Program on New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia held its annual conference in March in Washington. The meeting had a panel titled “Unrest in Kazakhstan and Its Implications” that discussed the causes of the unrest. During a Q&A session, I asked the panelists a question about the role of Ablyazov during the protests. The panelists all agreed that he played no role.
Moreover, I have found little to suggest that Ablyazov was intimately involved in the January unrest. It can be inferred that his statement to Reuters was an attempt to profit from the unrest.
Ablyazov’s legal woes
Apart from the March ruling, it is important to note that on October 18, 2021, U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan of the Southern District of New York rejected various objections filed by Ablyazov and Ilyas Khrapunov, his son-in-law. They were also sanctioned for their misconduct during the litigation filed by BTA Bank and the city of Almaty.
In late 2020, a UK court also froze assets tied to Ablyazov, “in bank accounts in half a dozen countries, stakes in luxury hotels and a Burger King franchise.”
Mukhtar Ablyazov routinely denies all charges against him and labels himself as an opposition leader that wants to bring change to Kazakhstan. He has openly and routinely criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and links Russian expansionist policies to the future of Kazakhstan. On the other hand, the legal processes against him are quite overwhelming. Courts in the United Kingdom, the United States, and even Russia have found him guilty of financial crimes, or at the very least frozen some of his assets. While his future in France appears secure given recent developments, Mukhtar Ablyavov’s legal troubles continue.