UK court rules Moldova tycoon's dispute with Kazakhstan must go to trial

ALMATY (Reuters) - A British court has ruled that a dispute between a Moldovan businessman and Kazakhstan, which has already led to the freezing of more than $20 billion of Kazakh assets in the West, must go to trial.

The asset freezes made last year were unusual both because of their size and the fact they affected sovereign funds traditionally regarded as immune to such legal claims.

Anatolie Stati, his son Gabriel and their companies say they have been subjected to harassment from Astana aimed at forcing them to sell their Kazakh investments cheaply.

Kazakhstan denies the allegations. However, the Statis and two of their companies – Ascom Group S.A. and Terra Raf Trans Traiding Ltd - have won an international arbitration award of around $500 million against the Kazakh government.

Kazakhstan has refused to pay, accusing Stati of using fraudulent means to secure a favorable arbitration ruling and filing lawsuits against him. The Statis, in turn, filed enforcement lawsuits in several European countries which led to large-scale Kazakh asset freezes last year.

The case before the High Court of Justice in London was one of those enforcement lawsuits. Kazakhstan chose to contest it, bringing up fraud allegations - which the Statis deny.

In February, the Statis asked the court to discontinue the proceedings, citing, among other reasons, the fact they had secured “attachments of Kazakhstan’s assets to the tune of $28 billion in other jurisdictions which made the English proceedings redundant”.

However, in a March 26 judgment published on Friday, the court set aside their notice of discontinuance, saying the matter must proceed to trial in October as previously scheduled.

“We are confident that justice will eventually be served,” Kazakh Justice Minister Marat Beketayev said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Stati said in an email that “the Stati Parties will be seeking permission to appeal the judgment,” describing the court’s decision as flawed.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Mark Potter