Antonio Alonso Marcos
Professor of the University CEU-San Pablo
Blue balloons in the streets of Astana. It is the penultimate strategy of Mukhtar Ablyazov, who wanted to attribute to himself the success of an absurd round. To celebrate the Nowruz, the Persian New Year, he proposed to the Kazakh citizens, from his “golden exile”, to carry blue balloons, precisely the color of the national flag. Ablyazov, former magnate, passes himself off as “political member of the opposition in the exile” and promotes from France his smear campaign against Kazakhstan’s president. But, who is Mukhtar Ablyazov and who is giving him media and political support? In Spain, we barely know this figure, who is using many European countries as his base of operations, sometimes not very legal.
It is enough to surf the Internet to discover who Mukhtar Ablyazov is (the Financial Times has dedicated about twenty articles to him). He graduated in 1986 in Theoretical Physics by the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute. He started creating a fortune by selling computers during the last years of the USSR and the first of the independence of Kazakhstan. He joined the business of food commercialization and in 1997 he was entrusted with the presidency of the state electricity company Kazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company (KEGOC). In 1998, he asked for a loan to acquire, along with a group of investors, part of the shares of the Bank Turan Alem during its privatization process. That is when his career as a banker started, giving the bank a new name: BTA Bank.
Between 2005 and 2009, he was president of the Managing Board of the BTA Bank and he used his position to deviate funds of depositors to his own accounts. He was sentenced in the United Kingdom to 22 months of prison for contempt of court, since he did not attend the hearings to avoid being imprisoned. Ablyazov did not steal from the rich to give it to the poor; he stole from small savers to keep it himself.
Little by little, he amassed a far from negligible fortune of around 7.5 thousand million dollars. To carry out such as theft, he needed the help of some collaborators. The Spanish National Court, when trying Aleksander Pavlov, called them “Organized Criminal Group”, since they made up a plot dedicated to loot the funds of the bank. In particular, the bank granted fraudulent loans to front men of Ablyazov that they would never return.
Since in 2009 it was evident that the Kazakh authorities were going to uncover the plot, he fled to the United Kingdom, where he had acquired many properties. There he was granted the status of refugee until more solid evidence arrived and he was sentenced in absentia. Then he fled to France, he was located and, after a complex legal process, he ended up being released. His family followed the journey through several European countries, but they all finally met in France, except for a daughter married to another member of the plot.
The media have untangled the hank presented by the judges of different countries and they are clarifying the relationships between them. One of the most important figures is Viktor Khrapunov, former mayor of Almaty; his son Ilyas is married to Madina, Ablyazov’s oldest daughter. Everything is kept in the family. International connections of this branch of the plot get to the Trump Tower of New York and the Central African Republic. Let us not forget about Timur Sabyrbayev either, who comfortably lives in Spain with the status of refugee, like Ablyazov’s former bodyguard, Aleksander Pavlov.
All this process would have been simpler if Ablyazov had not invoked his condition of “leader of the opposition”, of martyr of the “dictatorship of Nazarbayev”. It goes without saying that such arguments are futile excuses that, however, got through part of the European public opinion that, in turn, exercised pressure on the judges. The last show in this sense was the presentation in Brussels of a political platform called Zhana Kazakhstan (“New Kazakhstan”), whose main figures was Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who was Prime Minister between 1994 and 1997 (accused of tax fraud and money laundering). This platform could take international support away from Ablyazov’s cover: Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, a pseudo political party without popular support in Kazakhstan.
The most interesting of all this is the amount of political implications behind it. To be clear, Ablyazov is not political leader of any opposition. That is simply a cover to get some advantage in the judicial field. The description of this case will immediately sound familiar to any Spaniard well informed (“political leader wraps himself up in a flag to hide millions of stolen euros…”). So far, his trick is not doing bad for him.
22/05/2018. © All rights reserved