PARIS, April 9 (Reuters) - A French appeals court has blocked the extradition from France to Ukraine or Russia of jailed Kazakh tycoon Mukhtar Ablyazov, accused of embezzling up to $6 billion from his former bank BTA, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
Ablyazov had been in hiding since being sentenced to prison for contempt of court by an English judge in 2012.
He was arrested near the Riviera resort of Cannes last July and a French court agreed in January that he could be extradited to either Russia or Ukraine.
Ablyazov’s lawyer Jean-Pierre Mignard said in a statement he welcomed the ruling, which was read out in the criminal chamber of Paris’s Cours de Cassation, the court of last appeal for civil and criminal matters in France. He said the matter would now be re-examined by a new court in the city of Lyon.
In a statement issued in Paris, a legal adviser for BTA said the bank was disappointed by the decision, which it said stemmed from an administrative error in the first extradition ruling.
“However, the 9 January 2014 decisions upheld the Russian and Ukrainian requests comprehensively on the merits and the bank fully expects that the new French court will reach exactly the same decisions,” the statement said.
Ablyazov is accused of having embezzled billions 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.
Kazakhstan, which wants to put Ablyazov on trial, has no extradition treaty with France. However, both Ukraine and Russia have requested his extradition.
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 any extradition by France.
Ablyazov, a former Kazakh government minister, said during the hearing the allegations against him were fabricated and designed to rob him of his assets and eliminate him as an opponent to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. (Reporting by Mark John; Editing by Anthony Barker)