France allows questionable extradition to Ukraine or Russia

Halya Coynash

A French court in Aix-en-Provence has ignored concerns expressed by international and Ukrainian human rights groups, and ruled that Mukhtar Ablyazov, an opposition politician from Kazakhstan can be extradited to Russia or Ukraine to face fraud charges.  

The BBC writes that “he is accused of stealing billions of dollars from the Kazakh BTA Bank, which also operates in Russia and Ukraine.  It reports that in November 2013 the English High Court found that the former Kazakh energy and trade minister, who fled Kazakhstan in 2009, had defrauded BTA Bank of $300m (£183m) in investment bonds, and ordered him to pay $400m to BTA.

The judgement relates to one of 11 sets of legal proceedings against Ablyazov in England. 

Ablyazov, 50, whose lawyer will be appealing the ruling, says the allegations against him are politically motivated.  The United Kingdom would appear to have agreed since it granted him political asylum in 2011.  

France has no extradition treaty with Kazakhstan, but does with Russia and Ukraine.  All three countries asked for Ablyazov’s extradition. The court said that Russia should take priority, however the Russian Legal Information Agency notes that “extradition to Russia may be hindered for procedural reasons, so Ukraine remains the choice destination”.

Serious concern is aroused by this ruling.  Whether or not Ablyazov is guilty of financial offences, he was granted political asylum by one member of the EU which clearly saw a political component in the prosecution.

Human Rights Watch has said that if returned to Kazakhstan, Ablyazov would be "at serious risk of ill-treatment and would face a flagrant denial of his fair trial rights"  If the French court wanted to close its eyes to this risk, then Amnesty International and Ukrainian human rights groups spelled out the problem very clearly. There are good grounds for fearing that if returned to either Russia or Ukraine, Ablyazov will be swiftly passed to the Kazakhstan authorities. 

In 2012 Ukraine returned one asylum seeker to Russia after the man had been offered asylum in a third country.  It also turned a blind eye when the Russian authorities abducted Russian activist Leonid Razvozzhaev in the centre of Kyiv on Oct 19 2012.  Razvozzhaev was also in the process of seeking asylum.

The number of political refugees whom the Russian authorities have returned, on occasion flouting the European Court of Human Rights, to Uzbekistan and other former Soviet republics is formidable.  

In November 2013 the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Without Borders Project called on the French to reject Ukraine’s extradition request.  They said that recent events concerning Ablyazov and numerous arrests and subsequent extradition of his relatives give strong grounds for doubting the motives of the Ukrainian authorities.

The court in France has closed its eyes to too much with this ruling. 

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