Posted on July 14, 2011

Kazakh Billionaire Granted UK Asylum

Richard Orange, Telegraph (London), July 12, 2011

Mukhtar Ablyazov fled Kazakhstan in 2009 as BTA Bank, the bank that he chaired, was nationalised. He rented a house in The Bishop’s Avenue, the Hampstead street known as Billionaire’s Row.

The bank is now pursuing claims against him totalling £2.4bn in one of the biggest fraud cases ever heard at the London High Court.

Mr Ablyazov on Tuesday received official documentation from the Home Office informing him that his application for asylum had been successful, confirming unofficial information received last week.

“On 7 July 2011 the UK Home Office confirmed that Mr Ablyazov will be granted Refugee Status and that his wife and children have been permitted to remain in the UK,” a press statement from Mr Ablyazov read.

“Mr Ablyazov’s application for political asylum was based on the fact that if he were to return to Kazakhstan he would be persecuted because of his political opinions.”

The decision is certain to enrage Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose law authorities called again this year for Mr Ablyazov to be extradited to face organised crime charges.

Mr Ablyazov says he is being persecuted for his political opposition to Mr Nazarbayev, who has ruled the oil-rich republic with an iron fist since the dying days of the Soviet Union.

He claims that the fraud has been fabricated by the Kazakh authorities to discredit him and justify what he describes as the “forced nationalisation” of his bank.

Mr Ablyazov was jailed for a year in 2002 after co-founding Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, an opposition pro-business party, with other senior businessmen and bureaucrats, fleeing to exile in Moscow on his release in 2003.

He returned to Kazakhstan in 2005 after promising to limit his activities to business.

But BTA Bank was badly hit when the financial crisis struck in 2008 and Mr Ablyazov fled the country shortly before the Kazakh government took majority control in March 2009.

The bank’s new management claims that Mr Ablyazov siphoned off billions of the bank’s assets though a series of fake transactions in the years prior to his departure.

The London High Court in December put Mr Ablyazov’s assets into receivership after he sold assets in breach of a freezing order. It has also chided him for failing to fully disclose his assets.

Mr Ablyazov has sought to destabilise the country from exile, issuing a steady stream of statements in support of the oil workers’ strikes that have been raging in the country’s West since May.

When Sting the British singer pulled out of a concert in Astana in protest at the workers’ treatment, Askar Balzhanov, the chief executive of strike-hit oil company KMG EP hinted that Ablyazov was behind the move.

Last month Ablyazov issued a statement calling for Mr Nazarbayev to step aside and make way for a parliamentary republic.

Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and HSBC were among the banks that last year agreed to write off a combined $6.8bn (£4.3bn) in loans to BTA.

The banks stand to receive back up to 50 per cent of any funds BTA Bank recovers from Mr Ablyazov in the High Court.