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Published: Wednesday December 25, 2013 MYT 2:05:04 AM
Updated: Wednesday December 25, 2013 MYT 2:06:16 AM

Wife of Kazakh oligarch thanks Italy after travel ban dropped

Dissident Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov is seen in Almaty in this November 27, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Vladimir Tretyakov

Dissident Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov is seen in Almaty in this November 27, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Vladimir Tretyakov

ROME (Reuters) - The wife of an exiled Kazakh oligarch accused of embezzling millions of dollars from his former bank thanked Italy on Tuesday for helping her to overturn a travel ban, months after she was expelled from Rome.

Alma Shalabayeva, the wife of exiled oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, thanked Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino in a phone call for helping to persuade the Kazakh government to allow her return to Europe, the Italian foreign ministry said.

The ministry said in a statement it would follow the case closely and that the Italian charge d'affaires in Kazakhstan was helping Shalabayeva with the formalities of obtaining a visa to return to Europe.

Shalabayeva and her daughter were expelled from Rome, where they had been living, in a lightning operation in June. Critics including the Italian press, politicians and the Ablyazov family's lawyers accused the government of ignoring normal procedures to please Kazakhstan, a major oil producer. She was sent back to live with her parents in Almaty but was not allowed to leave the city.

Italy later said there had been irregularities and Prime Minister Enrico Letta revoked the expulsion order in July.

Ablyazov, now a political opponent of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, is at the centre of a tortuous legal battle with BTA, the bank he once controlled and which is now majority owned by the state of Kazakhstan.

He was arrested in France in July after 18 months as a fugitive and remains in custody facing possible extradition. Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have laid charges against him.

He denies accusations he embezzled up to $6 billion from his former bank, saying they are politically motivated.

Earlier this year, a British judge said Ablyazov instigated a massive fraud against BTA, which has so far won court approval to seize around $3.7 billion of his assets.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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