Human rights campaigners have called on France not to extradite the Kazakh oligarch and dissident Mukhtar Ablyazov, who was detained in the south of the country on Wednesday.
One group lobbied the French consul at Almaty in Kazakhstan, where he is accused of embezzling the equivalent of 4.5 billion euros. Activists believe the charges against the opponent of the president are politically motivated.
“We tried to explain the main underlying motives for this political persecution – namely relations between President Nazarbayev and Ablyazov. We stressed the point that it’s a personal feud which is taking the form of mass political repressions in Kazakhstan,” said human rights activist Bakhytzhan Taregozhina, reading from the text of the letter to the French consul.
Amnesty International believes that if Ablyazov ends up back in Kazakhstan he would be at risk of torture and an unfair trial. The former head of BTA Bank is also accused of large-scale fraud in Russia and Ukraine, which has issued a warrant for his arrest.
His family fear Ukraine may hand him over to Kazakhstan if he is expelled from France. Amnesty says extraditions between the former Soviet republics often violate human rights.
French legal sources said the extradition proceedings could take several months as judges would require proof from Ukraine that it had grounds for filing charges against him.
The prosecutor general’s office in Kazakhstan – ruled for more than two decades by Nazarbayev – said it had been informed of Ablyazov’s arrest by Interpol, which had him on a “Red Notice”.
Ablyazov was granted political asylum in the UK in 2011. However a British court upheld fraud and embezzlement charges levelled against him by BTA Bank, which was nationalised after going bankrupt.
In February 2012 the English High Court handed down a 22 month jail term for contempt of court. The sentence has not been carried out as he left the country. Later that year a senior judge branded Ablyazov “cynical” and “devious”.
Two months ago there was uproar in Italy after the fugitive’s wife and daughter were deported to Kazahkstan. The interior minister’s chief-of-staff resigned and the government admitted the expulsion was illegal.