* French judge tells Kazakh of Ukraine extradition request
* Ablyazov wanted in Astana, UK on embezzlement charges he
* Extradition procedure could take several months
By Philippe Laurenson
AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France, Aug 1 Fugitive Kazakh
oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, accused of embezzling around $6
billion, was told by a French judge on Thursday that he faced
extradition, but his family vowed to fight an expulsion it said
was politically motivated.
The 50-year-old businessman, in hiding since being handed a
jail sentence for contempt of court by an English judge 18
months ago, has been in custody in France since his arrest on
Wednesday near the Riviera resort of Cannes.
He was arrested after investigators for BTA, the
Kazakh bank he once controlled and which brought the vast fraud
case against him in England, traced him to a villa in the area
and tipped off local authorities that he was wanted by Interpol.
Armed police wearing balaclavas surrounded and then stormed
the villa at around 11 a.m. (0900 GMT). He did not resist arrest
in an operation that lasted around 30 seconds, a source familiar
with the arrest said.
Ablyazov, who denies fraud charges he says are designed by
strongman Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to silence him
as a political opponent, was arrested under an order from Kiev
and is likely to be sent to Ukraine, the local prosecutor said.
However, Russia's Interior Ministry said it also intended to
seek his extradition on fraud and forgery charges linked to the
Ablyazov cannot be extradited to Kazakhstan, because it is
not part of a Council of Europe extradition convention.
A lawyer close to the family said he suspected Ablyazov
would be sent from Ukraine to Kazakhstan, which are former
Soviet republics that have maintained close ties.
Two of Ablyazov's children, Madina and Madiyar, urged France
not to extradite their father.
"We beg the French authorities not to grant Kazakhstan our
father," they said in the statement. "Kazakhstan's pursuit of
him is purely political. We are afraid for his life."
PROCEEDINGS COULD TAKE MONTHS
The hearing in the southern French city of Aix-en-Provence
wrapped up by around 1 p.m. (1100 GMT), and Ablyazov was placed
in provisional custody, his lawyer Bruno Rebstock told Reuters.
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
An English High Court judge in March effectively declared
Ablyazov guilty of committing one of the largest frauds ever
tried in Britain - although Ablyazov's lawyers said later that
judgment was based on "unproven assumptions".
Ablyazov, a former government minister in Kazakhstan, has
been debarred from defending himself against BTA's fraud charges
because he ignored court orders to turn himself in and fully
declare his assets.
His lawyers have been working on bringing a claim against
the UK in the European Court of Human Rights because the English
judicial system "failed to protect his right to a fair trial".
Kazakhstan, together with Russia and Ukraine, brought
charges against Ablyazov after BTA was seized by the Kazakh
sovereign wealth fund in 2009 and declared insolvent.
Ablyazov fled to London and was granted political asylum in
2011, giving BTA the jurisdiction to bring a civil claim against
him on British soil. However, after a judge tried to jail him
for contempt of court in Feb 2012, he went into hiding.
His wife, Alma Shalabayeva, and their six-year-old daughter
Alua, were deported from Rome to Kazakhstan in May in a case
that caused a furore in Italian politics.
The move was seen by some as a favour to Nazarbayev, in
whose country Italy's energy giant Eni has invested
billions of dollars.