France decided to extradite Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former owner of AMT Bank (Russia) and BTA Bank (Kazakhstan), accused of multi-billion dollar embezzlement. However, it does not necessarily mean that the fraudster will soon go to trial in the Russian Federation.
Roman Marchenko, attorney, senior partner at a well-known law firm Ilyashev & Partners, which has been dealing with the BTA case for nearly seven years, told what can prevent it and why the case is so important for Russia.
- What is the ex-banker accused of by the Russian authorities?
- As the owner and top manager of banks in Russia and Kazakhstan, he embezzled large amounts of money, financed own projects for the depositors’ money. Plenty of money was just wasted and withdrawn through the offshore companies. Therefore, a number of states – Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan – now prosecute members of the Ablyazov’s organized crime group. Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation have already convicted a number of the banker’s accomplices. The results of activities of a would-be investor, say, in Moscow are evident – unfinished complexes at Paveletskaya and Poklonnaya comprise tens of billions of rubles, which were written off and stolen from the depositors. This is just a couple of examples of the dozens of Ablyazov’s “projects” in the Russian Federation. In Russia the banker is suspected of fraud and embezzlement on a large scale. At the same time the English courts have already found that Ablyazov stole more than 4.3 billion (!) dollars from the bank and ordered him to return the stolen money.
- Why was it decided to extradite the accused exactly to Russia?
- Indeed, the Supreme Court of France upheld the decision of the Lyon Court of Appeal on the possibility of extradition of Mukhtar Ablyazov to Russia and Ukraine, and the French government determined to extradite a banker exactly to Russia. For Russia, it is an important signal, which actually confirmed that the EU courts do not question the quality of work of the Russian law enforcement system and recognize securing the right to a fair trial in Russia.
- What should the state do?
- In this case, the Russian authorities have already taken all necessary steps. During the pre-trial investigation the Investigation Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs proved certainties of fraud, forgery and embezzlement by members of the Ablyazov’s organized crime group, and the Prosecutor General’s Office filed a request for extradition. The French courts have upheld the validity of extradition and passed the baton to the French Government. The latter chose Russia as the country where the unfortunate banker will be brought before a criminal court. Thereto, the attorneys appealed against the decision of the government on extradition of Ablyazov to the Council of State of France, which decision is expected in spring 2016.
- Can the Council of State of France make a decision against the Russian Federation?
- Ablyazov filed a claim to the Council of State of France against the French Government rather than the Russian Federation. Russia may be represented in the Council of State as a third party. However, as only a limited number of French lawyers may represent interests in the Council of State, for the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation it is now extremely important to ensure such representation, as the banker claims possible violation in the Russian Federation of his right to a fair trial, conditions of detention, etc.
Russia needs to give counter-arguments to the statement of Ablyazov, who often gives false allegations and falsifies documents. For example, in the court of Lyon the Ablyazov’s team filed a false conclusion of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine on the alleged absence of claims to the banker out there.
Regarding the terms, Mukhtar Ablyazov has been waiting for extradition in the pre-trial detention facility in France for the third year. After the Council of State makes its decision, the defense may file a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights. Much will depend on willingness of the attorneys of Mr. Ablyazov to delay the process.
- The attorneys of the Kazakh oligarch argue that their client is persecuted for political reasons. Is it so?
- Ablyazov really says about uneasy relations with the sitting president of Kazakhstan. But the fact that the criminal proceedings were initiated against him not only at home, but also in many other countries, confirms that this person is really a swindler though “on a large scale”. For example, the English court, which impartiality raises no doubt, declared the ex-banker a swindler and sentenced him to 22 months in prison. However, after the verdict Ablyazov run away from there, the term was unserved. This is a clear confirmation that we deal with a banal criminal, who just imitates the opposition member.
- Will extradition of the person, who appropriated money of AMT BTA, be a positive signal for the Russian banking sector?
- Surely. The example of the Ablyazov’s organized crime group is generally very indicative. To steal from the bank, he set up a transnational network and now more than a dozen states have to deal with the crimes committed. Let me give just one figure: the English court found that the money of the bank was stolen through the specially created (more than 1,300 (!)) offshore companies. For any country, it is important that every swindler felt the inevitability of punishment for the crimes committed. Thus, the trial of Ablyazov in the Russian Federation would be an important lesson for the Russian bankers, who sometimes confuse their money with the money that the depositors put in the bank for safekeeping. It is also important that if Ablyazov and other members of the organized crime group are convicted in Russia, the assets stolen by them shall be confiscated to the Russian budget.
- Your company has been counseling the victims for many years. Are there any other focus areas in this case?
- Prosecution is an important, but not the main part of our work. Ilyashev & Partners Law Firm has really been dealing with the case in several jurisdictions for more than 6 years. During this time, the stolen assets worth more than 1 bln dollars were returned. I would note that the team of lawyers of the Moscow office of Ilyashev & Partners Law Firm made a significant contribution to this work and continues to do so successfully. Now after return of assets from the swindlers, it is hoped that the investment projects launched will be completed.