Mukhtar Ablyazov, the Kazakh billionaire wanted on corruption charges by several European countries, has agreed a safe haven deal with Belgium as the authorities in neighboring France prepare to move against him.
The businessman, who has been on the run from the authorities in Kazakhstan for allegedly stealing more than $5 billion, has agreed to give evidence to Belgium’s Kazakhgate commission in return for a passport and immunity.
The businessman has met Dirk Van der Maelen, the president of the Belgian commission, on several occasions and is preparing to speak in a private session to the panel in Brussels later this month.
He will give evidence against Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov, the Kazakh businessmen accused of paying bribes to secure citizenship in the country in the late 1990s and for the introduction of Belgium’s criminal transaction law in 2011.
It is not the first time the Belgians have investigated the two businessmen. They were previously investigated in the early 2000s but it later immerged that a plot, hatched by Bulat Utemuratov, a rival Kazakh billionaire, and involving allegedly corrupt Belgian police officers, was feeding false information about them to the authorities.
Ablyazov, a former energy minister in the Kazakh government and former ally and business partner of Utemuratov, is accused of stealing billions from BTA Bank, which he once controlled. In 2009, after the bank collapsed, he was charged by the Kazakh authorities with plundering the bank’s assets and Russia and Ukraine say its citizens were also defrauded.
The tycoon fled to the UK, but disappeared in 2012 to escape what was the biggest ever fraud case to be heard by London’s High Court after being sentenced to prison for contempt of court. BTA’s receivers pursued his assets, seizing his Carlton House mansion in The Bishop’s Avenue, London’s billionaire row.
A year later private investigators found him living in Cannes in the South of France. He was ordered to be extradited to Russia but last year Ablyazov succeeded in having the decision overturned by a superior French court on the grounds that the request was politically motivated.
However, sources close to the businessman, who is currently living close the Alps, in the east of the country, have confirmed that the changing political landscape in France has led the tycoon to conclude that he is no longer safe there and he is again preparing to flee.
France does not have an extradition treaty with Kazakhstan, which wants to put the fugitive on trial, but it does have treaties with Russia and Ukraine.
In 2013, in a dramatic twist to the case, Ablyazov’s wife Alma was deported to Kazakhstan from Italy with the couple’s daughter Alua. Police found them travelling on fake Central African Republic passports but the pair claimed their detention was kidnapping.