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French asylum court prepares to hear Mukhtar Ablyazov case

The billionaire fugitive Mukhtar Ablyazov will soon learn whether he will be permitted to stay in France as a political refugee or face extradition on fraud charges. The long-running Ablyazov saga has reached the National Asylum Court (CNDA) in France, which is due to rule on the oligarch’s refugee status imminently.

Ablyazov fled Kazakhstan in 2009 after the collapse of BTA Bank and the Kazakh authorities subsequently accused the oligarch of looting $7.5 billion from the bank. The billionaire ended up in France and is trying to stay in the country by claiming political asylum.

According to an investigation by Paris Match, the imminent asylum decision is causing concern in French political circles because the country has important defence and uranium contracts with Kazakhstan.

The French government is worried that if the CNDA blocks the Ablyazov extradition request by granting him political asylum it will strain relations with Kazakhstan.

Paris Match reported that the Ablyazov decision will be one of the first major cases to land on the desk of Mathieu Hérondart, who took over as the CNDA’s new president in June.

Hérondart, former chief of staff at the Ministry of Justice, oversees an organisation that handles more than 60,000 cases a year – a number that increased by more than 40% this year, according to Le Figaro.

While most of the CNDA’s cases are comparatively low-profile, Hérondart’s handling of the Ablyazov case will face considerable scrutiny.

Paris Match reported that Ablyazov’s troubles began in 2009 when Kazakh prosecutors alleged that he had siphoned $7.5 billion from BTA Bank via bogus loans and through myriad shell companies.

Ablyazov initially sought refuge in London and was granted political asylum. A British court ruled that Ablyazov should pay BTA $4.6 billion but the oligarch refused to cooperate with the proceedings and he was found in contempt of court. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison and his asylum status was revoked. Running out of options, Ablyazov fled to France on an overnight bus.

Russia and Ukraine filed extradition warrants in France in relation to the BTA case and this led to the oligarch’s arrest. A court ruled in 2014 that he should be extradited and this judgement was confirmed by the Lyon Court of Appeal the following year.

In 2015, prime minister Manuel Valls signed the extradition order but the decision was annulled a year later by the Council of State, which argued that Ablyazov should be treated as a political refugee because of his opposition to the Kazakh government.

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”.

The issue is now back with CNDA, which according to Paris Match must now rule again on whether to grant Ablyazov political refugee status. Given the years of legal wrangling over Ablyazov’s status in France, it seems likely that whatever Mathieu Hérondart and the CNDA decide this dispute will rumble on for many more years.

Source: Eure Porter

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