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Published: Thursday January 9, 2014 MYT 7:50:04 PM
Updated: Thursday January 9, 2014 MYT 7:50:04 PM

French court rules Kazakh dissident should be extradited

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

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France (Reuters) - Dissident Kazakh Mukhtar Ablyazov, accused of embezzling up to $6 billion from his former bank BTA, should be extradited from France to Ukraine or Russian, a French court ruled on Thursday.

Ablyazov, 50, who had been in hiding since being sentenced to prison for contempt of court by an English judge 18 months ago, was arrested near the Riviera resort of Cannes last July and has been in custody since.

Kazakhstan, which wants to put him on trial, has no extradition treaty with France. However, both Ukraine and Russia have requested his extradition.

The court said it preferred he be extradited to Russia on the grounds that the alleged financial losses in the case were much larger there than in Ukraine.

His lawyer Olivier Quesneau said he would appeal against the decision to halt the extradition process for about a year.

"French justice is not doing itself an honour. Either it's very naive about states widely recognised as corrupt or it (the ruling) is a sign of the political powers' sway over the court," another one of his lawyers, Bruno Rebstock, said.

Ablyazov is accused of having embezzled the money from BTA, the Kazakh bank he once controlled but which was seized by Kazakh authorities and declared insolvent in 2009. Prosecutors said he made loans to front companies which he controlled and which were never paid back.

The Kazakh foreign ministry and president's office both declined to comment on the ruling and the prosecutor-general's office was not immediately available for comment.

BTA welcomed the ruling in a statement, saying that the decision would help recover billions of euros it accused Ablyasov of misappropriating.

Ablyazov, a former minister, said during the hearing the allegations against him were fabricated and designed to eliminate him as an opponent to President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled the oil-rich Central Asian nation for more than 20 years.

Ablyazov was granted political asylum by Britain after he moved there in 2009, but he fled London last year after being sentenced to 22 months in prison for contempt of court.

Italy welcomed back his wife Alma Shalabayeva last month after being expelled from the country, where she had been living.

The case created an uproar in Italy, where opposition politicians and the press accused the government of disregarding normal judicial and diplomatic procedures to please Kazakhstan.

(Reporting by Jean-Francois Rosnoblet,; Writing by Leigh Thomas,; Editing by Paul Taylor)

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