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* Ablyazov accused of embezzling $6 billion from bank
* Kazakhstan has no extradition treaty with France
* Lawyer says to appeal against ruling
(Adds statement by Ablyazov's wife, background)
By Jean-Francois Rosnoblet
AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France, Jan 9 Dissident Kazakh
Mukhtar Ablyazov, accused of embezzling up to $6 billion from
his former bank BTA, should be extradited from France
to Ukraine or Russia, a French court ruled on Thursday.
Ablyazov, 50, who had been in hiding since being sentenced
to prison for contempt of court by an English judge 18 months
ago, was arrested near the Riviera resort of Cannes last July
and has been in custody since.
Kazakhstan, which wants to put him on trial, has no
extradition treaty with France. However, both Ukraine and Russia
have requested his extradition.
The court said it preferred he be extradited to Russia on
the grounds that the alleged financial losses in the case were
much larger there than in Ukraine.
Ablyazov's wife Alma Shalabayeva said after the court's
ruling that her husband was wanted by Kazakhstan because "he is
fighting the ferocious regime" in his native country.
"For my husband, extradition amounts to a death sentence,"
Shalabayeva said in a statement. "If he is extradited, he will
never see me and our four children."
His lawyer Olivier Quesneau said he would appeal against the
decision to halt the extradition process for about a year.
"French justice is not doing itself an honour. Either it's
very naive about states widely recognised as corrupt or it (the
ruling) is a sign of the political powers' sway over the court,"
another one of his lawyers, Bruno Rebstock, said.
Ablyazov is accused of having embezzled the money from BTA,
the Kazakh bank he once controlled but which was seized by
Kazakh authorities and declared insolvent in 2009. Prosecutors
said he made loans to front companies which he controlled and
which were never paid back.
Russia and Kazakhstan are close political, military and
economic partners. Ablyazov's supporters have voiced concerns
that Russia could hand him over to Kazakhstan after his
extradition by France.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a 73-year-old former
steelworker, has ruled Central Asia's largest economy for more
than two decades.
He has overseen market reforms and massive foreign
investment in his oil-rich nation of 17 million, whose area is
about five times the size of France. However, he tolerates
little dissent and his party controls the docile legislature.
The Kazakh Foreign Ministry and president's office both
declined to comment on the ruling and the prosecutor-general's
office was not immediately available for comment.
BTA welcomed the ruling in a statement, saying that the
decision would help recover billions of euros it accused
Ablyasov of misappropriating.
Ablyazov, a former minister, said during the hearing the
allegations against him were fabricated and designed to
eliminate him as an opponent to Nazarbayev.
Ablyazov was granted political asylum by Britain after he
moved there in 2009, but he fled London last year after being
sentenced to 22 months in prison for contempt of court.
Italy welcomed back his wife last month after being expelled
from the country, where she had been living.
The case created an uproar in Italy, where opposition
politicians and the press accused the government of disregarding
normal judicial and diplomatic procedures to please Kazakhstan.
(Reporting by Jean-Francois Rosnoblet; Additional reporting by
Dmitry Solovyov in Almaty; Writing by Leigh Thomas; Editing by
Paul Taylor and Alison Williams)