LONDON, March 1 (Reuters) - Fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is accused of embezzling at least $5 billion from his former Kazakh bank, BTA, has been ordered by an English judge to turn himself in or risk losing his right to defend himself against some of the largest fraud claims ever heard in a UK court.
BTA, which has launched nine claims against Ablyazov since it defaulted on $12 billion of debts and was nationalised in 2009, can apply to strike out his defence and seek a default judgment if Ablyazov fails to report to court authorities and divulge the full extent of his assets by March 9, Judge Nigel Teare ruled.
“If Mr Ablyazov has fled abroad, which must be a possibility, then surrender is essential because the tipstaff’s (court authorities’) jurisdiction ends at (the port of) Dover,” Teare said in a judgment published on Thursday.
“I have therefore concluded that a mandatory injunction should be issued requiring Mr Ablyazov to surrender himself to the tipstaff.”
Ablyazov, who fled to Britain after BTA was declared insolvent in 2009, was sentenced to 22 months in jail two weeks ago for contempt of court in what was expected to be a sideshow to the main fraud claims due to be heard in court from November.
But the 48-year-old billionaire, who denies charges he says are designed to rob him of his assets and silence him as an opponent to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, failed to attend court.
BTA said last week that Ablyazov was believed to have left Britain on a coach bound for France.
“Not even his own solicitors (lawyers), who continue to act for him in this matter and to receive instructions from him, know where he is,” Teare noted. “They have told me, through (his leading counsel) Mr. (Duncan) Matthews, that they do not even know whether he is within or without the jurisdiction.”
BTA urged Judge Teare last Friday to give Ablyazov until March 2 to give himself up or remove his right to defence. The bank also asked for an order that Ablyazov be debarred from defending himself against claims against him if he failed to fully divulge his assets by March 9.
Teare dismissed the argument by Ablyazov’s legal team that these applications varied from “the silly to the inappropriate” and risked abusing their client’s civil rights.
“He will have a fair hearing of his civil rights and obligations if he provides a full affidavit of his assets,” he said. “If he chooses not to provide a full affidavit of his assets, then his defence will be struck out by reason of his own actions, not because the court has denied him his entitlement to a fair hearing of his civil rights and obligations.”
BTA’s claims against Ablyazov and his associates range from
allegations that bank loans were diverted into offshore shell companies for Ablyazov’s benefit to the purchase of a non-existent oil platform.
“Today’s ruling moves the litigation significantly forward. Mr. Ablyazov continues to defy the orders of the English High Court. BTA Bank will persist in its efforts to protect and recover assets which will benefit our creditors and shareholders,” BTA said in a statement.
Ablyazov, a former Kazakh minister who has said he received a death threat and hate mail while in Britain -- and was granted political asylum in 2011 -- has until March 8 to appeal against the contempt of court ruling for lying about his assets and breaching a worldwide freezing order.
His London-based spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for a comment. (Editing by Steve Orlofsky)