On March 29, 2021, the New York Federal Court ordered a trial for complaints filed by BTA bank related to the theft and laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars against oligarchs Mukhtar Abliazov and Ilyas Khrapunov. A look back at a legal saga with complex international ramifications.
New American rebound in proceedings initiated 5 years ago
Prosecuted for embezzlement in his country of origin, businessman Moukhtar Abliazov - the first fortune of Kazakhstan in the 2000s who now lives in France - is the subject of an indictment by the courts French. On suspicion of embezzling funds through a labyrinthine network of shell companies, he is also facing trial in the United States. It is in fact the turn of the Federal Court of New York to study the complaints filed by the bank BTA, of which he chaired the board of directors from 2005 to 2009, against him and against his son-in-law and former partner Ilyas Khrapunov. , son of the former mayor of Almaty Victor Khrapunov, himself prosecuted for embezzlement of public funds and abuse of corporate assets. This New York procedure was initiated more than five years ago.
Federal judge Alison J. Nathan would indeed have authorized several claims (conversion, unjust enrichment etc.) of BTA. The former oligarch is notably accused of having used fictitious loans on behalf of his own shell companies to the detriment of BTA. A practice of "roundtripping", a circular investment offense that involves using legal channels to avoid paying taxes in a jurisdiction where the rate is comparatively higher. The judge's decision to reject the request of the company "Triadou SPV S.A" is already an important victory for BTA.
The American council of the bank BTA and the city of Almaty Matthew L. Schwartz (Boies Schiller Flexner LLP) is moreover confident as for the outcome of the lawsuit: “The bank BTA and the city of Almaty appreciate the careful examination of the case by the Court, and that the latter find that there is 'significant evidence' to show that the funds invested in the United States by Ilyas Khrapunov and others come from the criminal conspiracy of Mukhtar Abliazov, and that the defendants do not presented no credible alternative. We look forward to finally being able to lay out all the evidence of these crimes at trial, and we are confident that when all is said and done, the investigator will agree with us. BTA and Almaty are happy to have this opportunity to finally get justice in a US court. "
"Political trial" for the accused, global financial crime for the bank
This multi-faceted affair is not yesterday. Initially condemned by his home country for embezzling funds to the tune of $ 7 billion, Mukhtar Abliazov went into long exile in Europe almost 10 years ago in order to escape his sentences. He first settled in the UK before being ordered to pay $ 4 billion in damages to BTA by a UK court. Refusing to submit to this decision, he then took refuge in France where he called himself "the victim of a conspiracy", presenting himself as a political refugee. A successful communication campaign since he recently obtained asylum in France.
On October 7, 2020, investigating judge Cécile Meyer-Fabre indicted him for "aggravated breach of trust" and "laundering of aggravated breach of trust". At the same time, in November 2020, the British justice demanded the freezing of all of its assets, as well as those of Ilyas Khrapunov “at Pictet & Cie or with any other Swiss bank but also with other establishments in Monaco and in Lichtenstein ”.
Recently, Mukhtar Abliazov in Le Monde accused France of being complacent with regard to Kazakhstan, without commenting specifically on the substance of the accusations. "Abliazov is crying out for a plot against all the jurisdictions which decide to prosecute him" explain 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 might believe that Abliazov was credible at first, it is no longer serious now. "
Kazakhstan under President Tokayev – transformation in all spheres
Around two years ago, a change of leadership took place in Kazakhstan, when Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (pictured) took over as Head of State following presidential elections. Since then, numerous reforms have been implemented in the country. Prior to these elections, Nursultan Nazarbayev was the president for almost three decades until 2019 and built a foundation that enabled Kazakhstan to become the biggest economy and top investment destination in the region. Under Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan also managed to build good relations with all its neighbours, as well as with Europe and the United States, writes Paulo Afonso Brardo Duarte.
There has been a shift in focus after 2019. President Tokayev is concentrating not just on economic reforms and foreign relations, but also on political changes in the country. Prior to change in leadership, the country primarily focused on economic development and investment attraction. Indeed, Kazakhstan still has the ambition to become one of the top 30 most developed countries in the world. Yet according to Kazakhstan’s current president, political changes are necessary to achieve economic development. One may wonder why these reforms matter outside of Kazakhstan. Yet the country is the top trading partner in Central Asia for the European Union and plays a key role in facilitating trade between China and the rest of the world through the Belt and Road project. Kazakhstan is also a founding member of the Eurasian Economic Union and is an active member of the international community, supporting the United States, Russia and other global powers in the resolution of conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan. Ultimately, the political and economic course of Kazakhstan impacts not only the country itself, but also the wider region and beyond.
One of Tokayev’s most significant changes is bringing the population closer to politics, and establishing what he calls “a listening state” – a government that listens to the feedback and criticisms of the population. To enhance dialogue between the government and the people, a National Council of Public Trust was established by Tokayev in 2019. Its aim is to develop specific proposals for reforms and legislation, taking into account the suggestions of civil society and the wider public. Making the national and local government more accountable improves its effectiveness and enables it to better fight long-lasting problems, such as corruption. In this regard, the country’s legal system has been transformed by transitioning it to a service model of work, which calls for a more active and responsible role for law enforcement personnel.
Public administration also required substantial reform as it is plagued by serious bureaucracy. As such, Tokayev instructed the government to reduce the number of civil servants by 25% while also hiring younger cadres. The President, who himself frequently uses social media, also made it a priority to digitise government services to increase efficiency.
In addition to political reforms, Tokayev has prioritised diversifying the economy to avoid excessive dependence on natural resources. For this reason, despite the lure of focusing on oil, gas, uranium and other raw materials that Kazakhstan exports, Tokayev has instructed the government to maximise the potential of agriculture, especially due to the fact that Kazakhstan neighbours China and other rapidly developing Asian countries, which require vast amount of seeds, grains and livestock.
Social reforms have also been realised. Tokayev recently stressed that “economic reforms are justified and supported only when they increase the income of a country’s citizens and ensure higher standards of living”. In practice this means protecting the most vulnerable, as well as individuals and companies that depend on loans to start a business. As such, Tokayev is aiming to expand the amount of bank loans, and direct them to companies that increase value by means of innovation, while reducing the number of inefficient enterprises run by the state. To support those that suffered the most from the economic consequences of the pandemic, the president offered his support to cancel penalties for bank loans.
Another interesting social measure that is likely to have long-term effect is Tokayev’s attempt to gradually revert the idea that higher education should be the ultimate goal of every student. Instead, Tokayev aims to reduce the number of universities to promote vocational centres and colleges that teach specific technical skills. The belief is that this is necessary in order to adapt to the needs of the market, which requires a variety of specialists.
Overall, while it is too early to assess the long-term impact of Tokayev’s presidency and his reform programme, it is clear that he is trying to fight old demons domestically, by shifting Kazakhstan away from old Soviet thinking and system of governance. The interplay between the domestic and external challenges aggravated by the test of COVID-19 and its consequences, will demonstrate whether Tokayev’s reforms are strong enough to help the country cope with the new era.
AWA welcomes first deposit from Kazakhstan
The Arctic World Archive (AWA) has welcomed the constitution of Kazakhstan to its growing repository of world memory.
In a ceremony, attended by the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Norway Yerkin Akhinzhanov, Minister-Counsellor and Deputy head of Mission Talgat Zhumagulov, Counsellor Ilyas Omarov, and First Secretary Azat Matenov from the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Norway, the piqlFilm reel holding the constitution, other important information and historical images were stored forever as a time capsule for future generations.
Kazakhstan now joins Mexico and Brazil as nations that have deposited constitutions.
‘On the eve of the Day of National Symbols of Kazakhstan, information files including the state flag, emblem, anthem, the Constitution, and the Law on State Independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated December 16, 1991, were placed in the Archive. This is an important day for our nation, with our contribution now part of this repository of global memory,’ said Mr Akhinzhanov.
Hosted by Piql’s Managing Director Rune Bjerkestrand and Deputy Director Katrine Loen, the delegates received a guided tour of the vault and the growing collection of masterpieces and historic and contemporary treasures stored safely for centuries.
‘I am very proud to welcome the Kazakhstan constitution to AWA as a contribution to world memory and look forward to future Kazakh deposits,’ Mr Bjerkestrand said.
This is the first deposit from the Republic of Kazakhstan and represents the 16th nation to deposit in AWA.
The Arctic World Archive was founded in 2017 by the Norwegian company Piql AS, which in 2002 developed an innovative technology of transforming 35-millimeter photosensitive film into a digital data carrier.
This innovative method is a response to the changing needs of the digital revolution. Global digital assets double every 2 years, about 10% of hard drives fail after 4 years, the cost of digital data security is increasing every year.
piqlFilm is currently the safest and most durable data carrier in the world, tested to survive for over 1000 years. Szymborska’s works have been stored both digitally and as a visual representation.
Piql services are offered around the world through a network of trusted partners.
AWA is located 300 metres inside a decommissioned coal mine on the remote Norwegian Island of Svalbard, holding digital treasures from around the world.
Svalbard was chosen as the location for a global memory repository, for its status as a declared demilitarised zone by 42 nations, offering both geographical and political stability. Further, the cool dry permafrost conditions increase the longevity of the stored data.
In this era, much of our heritage is stored digitally and, despite best efforts to protect it for the future, it can be exposed to risks, either from the online environment or just from the limits of modern storage technology.
The combination of resilient long-term storage technology and the safety offered by AWA, data will live on into the distant future.
Kazakhstan passes new election participation law
Sweeping new electoral changes to the law have been enacted in Kazakhstan, it has been announced.
On Tuesday, the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed off on the new laws.
These will allow, among other things, for direct elections of akims – mayors and governors - of cities of districts, villages, townships and rural districts.
Candidates in such elections must be citizens of Kazakhstan and at least 25 years old. Anyone nominated by political parties and “self-nominated” candidates can participate in the elections by collecting signatures of at least one percent of the total number of voters entitled to vote.
Elections must be announced at least 40 days in advance and must be held at least 10 days before the expiration of the term of office of the current akim. It is expected that in the second half of 2021, 836 new akims (accounting for 2,345 akims in total) will be directly elected.
Also, the threshold for parties eligible to enter parliament is to be lowered, from seven to five percent.
The government says the latest changes in the country’s election law are all part of its strategy to implement the concept of a “hearing state”. This is part of the Tokayev's administration's pledge to adopt already announced political reforms.
Presidential aide Yerlan Karin said the new laws are “key initiatives of the “Presidential Package of Political Reforms.”
He said, "Today, the head of state signed some very important documents on constitutional law and on elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan.”
So far, 10 laws have already been adopted within the framework of the President's political reforms.
The laws, said Karin, were “thoroughly and comprehensively discussed at various public venues, within the walls of Parliament with the participation of experts and civil activists, representatives of political parties.”
“Discussions on these topics were also held at the site of the National Council of Public Trust. Therefore, the adoption of these laws also testifies to the effectiveness of the socio-political dialogue in the country," said Karin.
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