On 7 November, the Appellate Court in Aix-en-Provence dedicated to consider the Russian request to extradite Mukhtar Ablyazov (pictured). On 8 November, the Spanish court Audiencia Nacional decided that Alexandr Pavlov, ex head of security of Mukhtar Ablyazov, can be extradited to Kazakhstan.
France: The case of Mukhtar Ablyazov
The purpose of the hearing of the Appellate Court in Aix-en-Provence, which took place on 7 November (members of the Foundation were present there to observe the hearing) was to linked to the extradition request filed by Russia. In connection with the guarantees, made by the Russian party, the request will now be considered in parallel with the Ukrainian request. The previous request (Russia filed the second request) has not been transferred through the French Ministry of Justice for consideration by the court. The purpose of the hearing was to determine the date of the first main hearing during which the substantial issues of the case should be considered. It will probably take place on 12 December (with the first and main hearing regarding the request of the Ukrainian bodies scheduled for 5 December).
The case was considered by a three-person judiciary (Presiding Judge, Judge-Rapporteur-referent, and the tertiary judge). When opening the meeting, Judge-Rapporteur defined the key issues requiring examination at different stages of the proceedings. He stressed that the case raises a number of difficulties which require additional information, and therefore one should not expect a rapid conclusion.
The key issues identified included:
1) The submitted request that extradition be halted;
2) the need to demonstrate the extent to which the deeds incriminated to Ablyazov were committed in Russia;
3) to what extent, and on what basis does Russia wish to prosecute him for crimes that were allegedly committed outside its borders (as is apparent from the documents), and;
4) the existence of labour camps and the possibility of forcing prisoners to perform public service work in the Russian penitentiary system(apparently, France is carrying out extensive negotiations with Russia on this issue in the context of cooperation with the Russian judicial system, as it is a practice which France most definitely does not accept).
The prosecutor pointed out that France must not violate human rights and comply with the demands of Ukraine and Russia if there is a risk that such compliance may entail the infringement of rights.
The counsel Bruno Rebstock, underlined in his statement that:
- The problem, which still remains is the application of detention and difficulties in contacting the family (especially the refusal of visitation rights to his youngest son).
- General standards regarding the observance of human rights in Russia leave much to be desired.
- There are no real (enforceable) guarantees ensuring proper treatment of Ablyazov in Russia.
- The Minsk Convention, which is binding to, among others, Russia and Kazakhstan, allows the execution of extradition from Russia to Kazakhstan.
- Well-documented and frequently encountered are situations where Russian authorities have declared one thing and then done another.
Ablyazov himself clearly declared that he does not give his consent for the extradition and that he has nothing to add as his position was presented by the lawyer.
In conclusion, the judge pointed out that, at this stage, the most important issue is to obtain answers regarding the potential fate of Ablyazov, following his possible extradition to Russia. He noted that Russia offers guarantees under which, without French consent, the onward extradition of Ablyazov to a third country shall not be undertaken and denied the existence of forced labour camps. He also drew attention to the fact that - like France - Russia has no extradition treaty with Kazakhstan.
The following important issues will include the presentation of all reports concerning the case and the issues at stake, the participation of the Russian prosecutor in the cross-examination in a French court, and obtainment of additional information from Russia (in the scope mentioned above plus raised concerns regarding human rights) necessary to issue a judgement.
If the Russian party states that the participation of the public prosecutor in the cross-examination and/or provision of additional information requires more time, the date of the next hearing may be postponed.
Spain: The case of Alexandr Pavlov
On 8 November, the Spanish court Audiencia Nacional confirmed in the last instance the extradition of Alexandr Pavlov to Kazakhstan. The judges voted 10:7, the votes of the three judges that abstained from expressing their view on the case before were decisive. Now the decision of the court needs to be confirmed by the government of Spain, which also has a right to take a political decision not to carry out the extradition. The government should deliberate on this in a few weeks time. Currently, the lawyer of Alexandr Pavlov plans on filing an appeal against this decision to the European Court of Human Rights. An appeal against the negative decision in Pavlov's asylum request procedure from June 2013 is also to be expected.
According to Amnesty International and Open Dialog Foundation, Pavlov can only expect torture and a trumped-up trial in Kazakhstan.
Link to the statement by Amnesty International on the decision of Auciencia Nacional court: Spain set to extradite man to Kazakhstan despite torture risk
Europol supports Spain and US in dismantling money-laundering organized crime
Europol have supported the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) and the US Drug Enforcement Administration to dismantle an organized crime group laundering money for major South American cartels.
The criminal network was involved in debt collection and laundering of money coming from drug trafficking. They also provided so-called hitman services involving contract killings, threats and violence targeted at other criminal groups. The criminal organisation used the network of hitmen to collect payments across Spain from other criminal groups buying drugs from the South American cartels to redistribute them locally. The investigation identified also a number of ‘front men’ acquiring luxurious goods for the lifestyles of the group’s leaders. This was only a small part of a large money-laundering scheme that traded high-end cars and used smurfing techniques to place criminal profits into the financial system.
- 4 suspects arrested (Colombian, Spanish and Venezuelan nationals)
- 7 suspects charged with criminal offences
- 1 company charged with a criminal offence
- 3 home searches in Spain
- Seizures of high-end cars, luxury items, firearms and ammunition
Europol facilitated the information exchange and provided analytical support during the whole investigation.
Headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, Europol supports the 27 EU member states in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime and other serious and organized forms of crime. It also works with many non-EU partner states and international organizations. From its various threat assessments to its intelligence-gathering and operational activities, Europol has the tools and resources it needs to do its part in making Europe safer.
European Audit Institutions pool their work on cybersecurity
As the threat level for cybercrime and cyberattacks has been rising over recent years, auditors across the European Union have been paying increasing attention to the resilience of critical information systems and digital infrastructures. The Audit Compendium on cybersecurity, published today by the Contact Committee of EU supreme audit institutions (SAIs), provides an overview of their relevant audit work in this field.
Cyber incidents may be intentional or unintentional and range from the accidental disclosure of information to attacks on businesses and critical infrastructure, the theft of personal data, or even interference in democratic processes, including elections, and general disinformation campaigns to influence public debates. Cybersecurity was already critical for our societies before COVID-19 hit. But the consequences of the pandemic we are facing will further exacerbate cyber threats. Many business activities and public services have moved from physical offices to teleworking, while ‘fake news’ and conspiracy theories have spread more than ever.
Protecting critical information systems and digital infrastructures against cyberattacks has thus become an ever-growing strategic challenge for the EU and its member states. The question is no longer whether cyberattacks will occur, but how and when they will occur. This concerns us all: individuals, businesses and public authorities.
“The COVID-19 crisis has been testing the economic and social fabric of our societies. Given our dependence on information technology, a ‘cyber crisis’ could well turn out to be the next pandemic“, said European Court of Auditors (ECA) President Klaus-Heiner Lehne. “Seeking digital autonomy and facing challenges posed by cyber threats and external disinformation campaigns will undoubtedly continue to be part of our daily lives and will remain on the political agenda in the next decade. It is therefore essential to raise awareness of recent audit findings on cybersecurity across the EU member states.”
European SAIs have therefore geared up their audit work on cybersecurity recently, with a particular focus on data protection, system readiness for cyberattacks, and the protection of essential public utilities systems. This has to be set in a context in which the EU is aiming to become the world’s safest digital environment. The European Commission and the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in fact, have just presented a new EU Cybersecurity Strategy, which aims to bolster Europe's collective resilience against cyber threats.
The Compendium published on 17 December provides background information on cybersecurity, main strategic initiatives and relevant legal bases in the EU. It also illustrates the main challenges the EU and its member states are facing, such as threats to individual EU citizens´ rights through misuse of personal data, the risk for institutions of not being able to deliver essential public services or facing limited performance following cyberattacks.
The Compendium draws on the results of audits carried out by the ECA and the SAIs of twelve EU member states: Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Finland and Sweden.
This audit Compendium is a product of co-operation between the SAIs of the EU and its member states within the framework of the EU Contact Committee. It is designed to be a source of information for everyone interested in this important policy field. It is currently available in English on the EU Contact Committee website, and will later be available in other EU languages.
This is the third edition of the Contact Committee’s Audit Compendium. The first edition on Youth unemployment and the integration of young people into the labour market was published in June 2018. The second on Public health in the EU was issued in December 2019.
The Contact Committee is an autonomous, independent and non-political assembly of the heads of SAIs of the EU and its member states. It provides a forum for discussing and addressing matters of common interest relating to the EU. By strengthening dialogue and co-operation between its members, the Contact Committee contributes to an effective and independent external audit of EU policies and programmes
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