France to extradite Kazakh tycoon

A French court has ruled that a Kazakh tycoon and dissident, Mukhtar Ablyazov, should be extradited to Russia or Ukraine to face fraud charges.

He is accused of stealing billions of dollars from the Kazakh BTA Bank, which also operates in Russia and Ukraine.

The court said Russia should take priority. He was arrested on the French Riviera last July.

He denies the allegations. His children say his life would be in danger if he were to be transferred to Kazakhstan.

Both Ukraine and Russia have requested his extradition. His lawyer said he would appeal against the ruling.

The US-based organisation Human Rights Watch says 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”.

He is a former Kazakh energy and trade minister, who fled Kazakhstan in 2009.

Last November the English High Court found Ablyazov 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, says the allegations against him are politically motivated and designed to eliminate him as a rival to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Human rights campaigners have accused President Nazarbayev of silencing independent media and persecuting political opponents, as well as using the police and courts to keep a tight grip on power.