LONDON, Feb 26 (Reuters) - The UK’s highest court has rejected a last-ditch attempt by fugitive Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov to defend himself in court against charges that he masterminded one of the largest frauds to be tried in Britain.
The decision means that Ablyazov, who has been in hiding since a UK judge attempted to jail him for contempt of court last February, has run out of legal options in Britain unless he turns himself in and fully declares his assets.
Three Supreme Court judges refused to grant Ablyazov permission to appeal a court order that prevents him from defending himself at trial against allegations that he embezzled about $6 billion from BTA Bank, of which he was chairman.
BTA, once one of Kazakhstan’s largest banks, has brought 11 fraud claims in England against Ablyazov. The former Kazakh government minister, however, denies allegations that he says are designed to rob him and eliminate him as an opponent to Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Speaking to Reuters over a secure telephone line from his hideaway in December, Ablyazov vowed to bring a claim against Britain in the European Court of Human Rights for breaching his right to a fair trial if the UK Supreme Court turned him down.
His lawyer at London firm Addleshaw Goddard, which has also represented Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, was not immediately available for comment.
BTA managing director Pavel Prosyankin said that the ruling would speed asset recovery. The bank has won a $2 billion default judgment against Ablyazov and, while it awaits further similar judgments, is keen to sell assets such as Ablyazov’s lavish London mansion and country estate.
“The Supreme Court’s decision reinforces the bank’s ability to start to reverse the processes by which Mr Ablyazov fraudulently diverted assets from the bank,” Prosyankin said in a statement.
BTA, controlled by Kazakhstan’s powerful sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna, has pursued its former chairman since it was nationalised and declared insolvent in 2009, accusing him of using fraudulent loans and shell companies to line his and his lieutenants’ pockets.
Ablyazov, a former theoretical physics graduate, entrepreneur and politician who fled to Britain after he says BTA was seized, was granted political asylum in 2011.
A UK judge conceded in 2011 that the evidence he provided before going into hiding painted a “chilling picture” of life in Kazakhstan, but he refused to strike out the claims against Ablyazov and his allies as politically motivated.
In November Court of Appeal judges labelled him “devious” and “cynical” while rejecting a previous attempt by his London legal team to overturn the debarring order.
Since November, the cases against Ablyazov have been winding their way through court without him. Their focus is now on the remaining defendants accused of conspiring with him.