France: Ensure safety of Kazakhstani Opposition Figure

The authorities in France must ensure that Mukhtar Ablyazov has a full and fair extradition process and that he is not sent to any country that may return him to Kazakhstan where he will be at risk of torture and an unfair trial, Amnesty International said today.

Kazakhstani national Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive banker, recognized refugee and key political opponent of the country’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, was apprehended by French police on 31 July during a house raid in Mouans-Sartoux, near Cannes. It has been reported that the police were acting upon an extradition request from the Ukraine, where Ablyazov has been accused of financial crimes by the Ukrainian authorities.

Amnesty International believes there is a high risk that if extradited to Ukraine Ablyazov would be subjected to onward transfer to Kazakhstan where he would face an unfair trial and possible torture and other ill-treatment.

“The Kazkhstani authorities want Mukhtar Ablyazov at all costs,” said John Dalhuisen, Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme.

“The French authorities must carefully consider all the angles to Ablyazov’s case and make absolutely sure that he is not sent to any country where he will be at risk of harm or of subsequently being loaded on to a plane to Kazakhstan.”

A July 2013 Amnesty International report “Returns to Torture: Extradition, Forcible Returns and Removals to Central Asia” highlights the routine cooperation of Russia and Ukraine with Central Asian republics, including Kazakhstan, in transferring people back to Central Asia, often in violation of their human rights.

The Kazakhstani authorities have targeted several of Ablyazov’s family members and former associates in various European countries in the last year and appears to have garnered support in this effort from allies such as the Ukrainian and Russian governments. In May, Mukhtar Ablyazov’s wife, Alma Shalabaeva and their six-year-old daughter were illegally transferred to Kazakhstan after police raided a house in Rome apparently looking for Mukhtar Ablyazov.

The Italian government subsequently rescinded the expulsion order amid an outcry from politicians, parliamentarians, and international actors regarding the illegality of the operation and possible political influence on the Italian authorities by the Kazakhstani government.

“The Italian government caved into pressure from Kazakhstan. The French authorities must be careful not to make the same mistake. They cannot be — or be perceived as — doing Kazakhstan’s dirty work,” said Dalhuisen.

Kazakhstan is currently seeking the extradition of other associates of Ablyazov from Poland, Spain and the Czech Republic.

“European governments, including France, must set an example and guarantee that Ablyazov’s human rights are respected and protected. Otherwise, Europe becomes deeply implicated in the on-going human rights violations that plague Central Asian republics, where torture and ill-treatment and flagrantly unfair trial are commonplace,” said Dalhuisen.

Mukhtar Ablyazov appeared today before the Court of Appeal of Aix. He will remain detained but his lawyers will continue to seek his release on bail. Extradition proceedings will proceed in the coming month.