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Is justice independent in France? The Mukhtar Abliazov case

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Prosecuted for embezzlement in his country of origin, the Kazakh businessman Moukhtar Abliazov now lives in France, where he has been granted political refugee status. At the same time, he is the subject of an indictment by the French justice. On 30 April, he gave the daily Le Monde an interview in which he denounces a political cabal led by the French authorities. Not without approximations and untruths.

Let us first recall the facts: between 2005 and 2009, Mukhtar Abliazov chaired the board of directors of BTA, the third largest bank in Kazakhstan, of which he owned more than 70%. Sentenced in absentia for having embezzled funds to the tune of $7 billion, he has since started a long exile which has seen him settle in the United Kingdom, before settling his suitcases in France. In the meantime, he was ordered to pay $4bn in damages to BTA by a British court, a decision he refused to submit to. No less than three countries are now calling for his extradition, in connection with this gigantic embezzlement.

It is now for the French justice to look into the Abliazov case . By virtue of a provision of the Penal Code (article 113-8-1) which prevents persons having committed offenses from going unpunished, the French authorities are in fact competent to judge the case. Applying this principle of “extradite or judge”, a French investigating judge, Cécile Meyer-Fabre, seized by the Paris prosecutor's office, decided to indict the former oligarch for “aggravated breach of trust” and “money laundering”. 'aggravated breach of trust'.

Unfounded accusations against the President of the Republic

In the interview he gave to Le Monde, Abliazov accuses the French state of being behind this indictment, lending Emmanuel Macron the will to please the Kazakh authorities. He puts forward the economic interests which would have pushed the Elysee to "remote control" the justice to cause his extradition. Accusations which are not based on any tangible element, except a letter addressed by Kassym-Jomart Tokaïev to his French counterpart, letter in which mention is made of the "problem" Abliazov.

It has been twelve years since Mr. Abliazov has presented himself as a refugee pursued by the authorities of his country for purely political reasons. Problem: the one who calls himself the leader of the opposition seems to have no official support within the opposition parties in Kazakhstan, if we are to believe their speeches on social networks. Finally, the DVK movement he created was recognized as extremist following insurrectional riots, as was his new “Koshe partiassy” movement. Capitalizing on the sympathy enjoyed by Alexey Navalny with opponents of Vladimir Poutine (and on a certain confusion between countries from the former Soviet bloc), Abliazov readily plays the card of the persecuted opponent.

Le Monde tends to accredit this thesis by choosing to grant it this status in the title of its article, where we could just as well have spoken of a financial criminal on the run. "Abliazov is crying out for a conspiracy against all the jurisdictions which decide to prosecute him specify the lawyers of the bank BTA . "He carried out the same communication campaign in Kazakhstan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and now in France. If some could believe that Abliazov was credible at the beginning, it is no longer serious today.” 

Independent justice

With regard to the law, and the suspicions against the President of the Republic, it should be remembered that the courts in France are independent. In no way was the Elysee able to intervene with Cécile Meyer-Fabre in her decision to indict. Just as the Head of State had no say in the decision, taken by the National Court of Asylum (CNDA) after an initial refusal by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons ( OFPRA), to grant Mr. Abliazov refugee status.

The fact that these decisions could have been taken without this systematically translating into the detriment of the foreign businessman also proves the independence of the courts responsible for ruling, in both cases. In any event, there can be no contradiction between decisions which, for one, fall under administrative law and the other under criminal law. Asked by Le Monde, the Paris Court indicates that "the procedure is following its normal course".

For their part, the lawyers of the bank BTA specify that "on the merits of the charges, Abliazov surprisingly has nothing to say. According to them, BTA "only hopes to recover the embezzled money".

Brexit

Macron offers UK's Johnson 'Le reset' if he keeps his Brexit word

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French President Emmanuel Macron offered on Saturday (12 June) to reset relations with Britain as long as Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands by the Brexit divorce deal he signed with the European Union, writes Michel Rose.

Since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year, relations with the bloc and particularly France have soured, with Macron becoming the most vocal critic of London's refusal to honour the terms of part of its Brexit deal.

At a meeting at the Group of Seven rich nations in southwestern England, Macron told Johnson the two countries had common interests, but that ties could improve only if Johnson kept his word on Brexit, a source said.

"The president told Boris Johnson there needed to be a reset of the Franco-British relationship," the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

"This can happen provided that he keeps his word with the Europeans," the source said, adding that Macron spoke in English to Johnson.

The Elysee Palace said that France and Britain shared a common vision and common interests on many global issues and "a shared approach to transatlantic policy".

Johnson will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Saturday, where she could also raise the dispute over a part of the EU divorce deal that is called the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The British leader, who is hosting the G7 meeting, wants the summit to focus on global issues, but has stood his ground on trade with Northern Ireland, calling on the EU to be more flexible in its approach to easing trade to the province from Britain.

The protocol aims to keep the province, which borders EU member Ireland, in both the United Kingdom's customs territory and the EU's single market. But London says the protocol is unsustainable in its current form because of the disruption it has caused to supplies of everyday goods to Northern Ireland.

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EU

Macron slapped in the face during walkabout in southern France

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A man slapped President Emmanuel Macron in the face on Tuesday (8 June) during a walkabout in southern France, write Michel Rose and Sudip Kar-gupta.

Macron later said he had not feared for his safety, and that nothing would stop him carrying on with his job.

In a video circulating on social media, Macron reached out his hand to greet a man in a small crowd of onlookers standing behind a metal barrier as he visited a professional training college for the hospitality industry.

The man, who was dressed in a khaki T-shirt, then shouted "Down with Macronia" ("A Bas La Macronie") and slapped Macron on the left side of his face.

He could also be heard shouting "Montjoie Saint Denis", the battle cry of the French army when the country was still a monarchy.

Two of Macron's security detail tackled the man in the T-shirt, and another ushered Macron away. Another video posted on Twitter showed that the president, a few seconds later, returned to the line of onlookers and resumed shaking hands.

The local mayor, Xavier Angeli, told franceinfo radio that Macron urged his security to "leave him, leave him" as the offender was being held to the ground.

Two people were arrested, a police source told Reuters. The identify of the man who slapped Macron, and his motives, were unclear.

The slogan the man shouted has been co-opted in the past few years by royalists and people on the far-right in France, Fiametta Venner, a political scientist who studies French extremists, told broadcaster BFMTV.

Macron was on a visit to the Drome region to meet restaurateurs and students and talk about returning to a normal life after the COVID-19 pandemic.

French President Emmanuel Macron interacts with members of a crowd while visiting Valence, France June 8, 2021. Philippe Desmazes/Pool via REUTERS
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to journalists at the Hospitality school in Tain l'Hermitage, France June 8, 2021. Philippe Desmazes/Pool via REUTERS

It was one of a series of visits he is making, his aides say, to take the nation's pulse before a presidential election next year. He later continued his visit to the region.

Macron, a former investment banker, is accused by his opponents of being a part of a moneyed elite aloof from the concerns of ordinary citizens.

In part to counter those allegations, he on occasion seeks out close contact with voters in impromptu situations, but this can throw up challenges for his security detail.

Footage at the start of Tuesday's slapping incident showed Macron jogging over to the barrier where the onlookers were waiting, leaving his security detail struggling to keep up. When the slap happened, two of the security detail were at his side, but two others had only just caught up.

In an interview with the Dauphine Libere newspaper after the attack, Macron said: "You cannot have violence, or hate, either in speech or actions. Otherwise, it's democracy itself that is threatened."

"Let us not allow isolated events, ultraviolent individuals... to take over the public debate: they don't deserve it."

Macron said he had not feared for his safety, and had continued shaking hands with members of the public after he was struck. "I kept going, and I will keep going. Nothing will stop me," he said.

In 2016, Macron, who was economy minister at the time, was pelted with eggs by hard-left trade unionists during a strike against labour reforms. Macron described that incident as "par for the course" and said it would not curb his determination.

Two years later, anti-government “yellow vest” protesters heckled and booed Macron in an incident that government allies said left the president shaken.

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France

French lecturer reaches for stars with astronaut application

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Matthieu Pluvinage, a candidate to the European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut selection, poses in his office at the ESIGELEC engineering school where he teaches, in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, June 4, 2021. Picture taken June 4, 2021. REUTERS/Lea Guedj
Matthieu Pluvinage, a candidate to the European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut selection, poses in his office at the ESIGELEC engineering school where he teaches, in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, June 4, 2021. Picture taken June 4, 2021. REUTERS/Lea Guedj

In a break from his job teaching engineering to students in France's Normandy region, Matthieu Pluvinage (pictured) put the finishing touches on an application for a new job: astronaut, Reuters.

Pluvinage, 38, is taking advantage of a European Space Agency initiative to run an open recruitment drive for new astronauts for its manned flight programme.

While he has never been a test pilot or served in the military - typical credentials for astronauts in the past - he ticks many of the boxes in the job description.

He has a masters degree in science, he speaks English and French, he reckons he is fit enough to pass the medical, and he has a passion for space.

"There are things that make me think, 'I want to do this! It's cool!'," said Pluvinage in his office at the ESIGELEC engineering school near Rouen, 140 km (90 miles) west of Paris, where he teaches.

Pluvinage has a collection of books about Thomas Pesquet, the space engineer and airline pilot who this year became the first French commander of the International Space Station.

Displayed on a computer monitor was his job application, still being drafted. He has until June 18 to submit it, and will know the result in October.

The odds are long. He has not yet even entered the recruitment process. Competition will be stiff. To succeed, Pluvinage will need to get through six selection rounds.

But he said he decided to take the risk because the next time the space agency puts out an open call for new astronauts, likely to be years from now, he may be too old.

"No matter the result, if I don't try it, I will have regrets for the rest of my life," he said.

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