Accused Businessman Receives Prison Cell Visit From Polish Lawmaker & Italian NGO Head: Questions Asked

A European delegation led by Polish lawmaker Marcin Swiecicki and the president of the Italian League for Human Rights, Antonio Stango has met with Kazakhstani businessman Iskander Yerimbetov, who currently under investigation on suspicion of money laundering and whom his relatives consider as a “political prisoner”.

This visit was organised by invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, and likely as a preparatory action within the framework of the EU-Kazakhstan Parliamentary Cooperation Committee scheduled for 10-11 May 2018.

During these meetings, MEPs will examine the implementation of the EU-Kazakhstan Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which was ratified in December 2017, including the fulfillment of the commitment in human rights field.

Yerimbetov was arrested in November 2017 and charged with involvement in money laundering by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive Kazakh oligarch, who himself stands convicted of embezzling more than $7 billion from Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank.

Iskander Yerimbetov is also suspected in the “disappearance” of about $647,000 of funds relating to the company SKY Service LLP, which he controls. 

From the moment of detention, in November 2017, Yerimbetov’s parents and sister Bota Jardemalie, who lives in Belgium and personally has been involved in the illegal issuance of dubious loans by BTA Bank worth about $500 million, have been claiming that the businessman has been subjected to torture in a Kazakh detention facility.

On April 16, above-mentioned Marcin Swiecicki and Antonio Stango met with the jailed Yerimbetov. After that Swiecicki and Stango, emphasising their impartiality, reported to journalists in Almaty that Yerimbetov told them he allegedly had been tortured in custody.

This was understood as involving beating and threats from cellmates, but not anyone from administration. At the same time, the businessman was “afraid to tell the whole truth to the special prosecutor”, who was conducting a criminal case on “torture” against him.

Both the Polish and the Italian gentlemen concerned have links to the controversial Open Dialog Foundation, an organisation led by Ukrainian national Lyudmila Kozlovskaya, and allegedly backed by Mukhtar Ablyazov himself. 

Photos of Marcin Swiecicki together with Lyudmila Kozlovskaya appear on the Internet, but as for the other member of the delegation, Antonio Stango, this is more interesting.

An e-mail by Mr Stango, seen by EU Today, appears to show that Lyudmila Kozlovskaya paid his business trip to Kazakhstan, and he in turn highly likely coordinated his subsequent report with the head of Open Dialog Foundation.

In this connection, it could be possible to ask responsible bodies of the Italian League for Human Rights and Mr Stango himself, how do correspond business trips at the expense of others with your statutes and principals?

Also it would be interesting to know, what issues were agreed between Lyudmila Kozlovskaya and Antonio Stango, as well whether other money was received from Open Dialog Foundation or Ablyazov and his associates?

Also, there remains the question of who paid for the trip of the Polish lawmaker Marcin Swiecicki to Almaty.

It should be noted that in order to provide and ensure objective and unbiased evaluation of information about “torture”, the Kazakh government on January and February organised several visits of independent experts and human rights activists.

On 12th January 2018, the head of the office of the Ombudsman Serik Ospanov, along with the  head of the national office for the prevention of torture, Igor Miroshnichenko, arrived in the detention facility in order to visit Yerimbetov.

Although forensic medical examination and fluoroscopy failed to reveal any bodily injuries, the authorities admitted a lack of full compliance with the sanitary and hygienic requirements in the cells where Yerimbetov was kept, and physicians also noted that the prisoner was suffering from a “common cold”.

In view of the continued complaints to the international organisations by Yerimbetov's parents, on January 31st, he was visited by Ardak Zhanabilova, the chairman of the Public Monitoring Commission of Almaty.

In addition, on February 1st, Zhemis Turgambetova, Executive Director of the Public Foundation “Charter for Human Rights”, and Yevgeniy Zhovtis, Director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law visited Yerimbetov.

However, whilst none of this confirmed the fact of torture or beating, human rights activists noted “Yerimbetov’s unhealthy appearance - he had a fever, a dry cough, and red eyes”. 

In addition, Yerimbetov was also visited by Zoltan Szalai, Charge d'Affaires of the EU Delegation to Kazakhstan, and diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Belgium.

It should be note, that Marcin Swiecicki and Antonio Stango were allowed to speak to Iskander Yerimbetov face to face, as they admitted, “in a confidential atmosphere”.

As for Yerimbetov, his trial is impending, and given the international attention the case is receiving, the authorities have committed to an open and transparent process, with respect to the requirements of the national and international press.

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Phillipe Jeune

Phillipe Jeune

Phillipe Jeune is a Paris-based freelance journalist, and an occasional contributor to EU Today. He has a background in intelligence gathering, and he specialises in business matters, with a particular interest in Central Asia and the Middle East.

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