Mukhtar Ablyazov: convicted fraudster accused of interfering with democratic elections

The fugitive Oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, described as “the world’s richest fraudster”, has come under fire for his attempts to destabilise Kazakhstan’s presidential elections, called after the surprise resignation of President Nursultan Nazarbayev in March. Nazarbayev had ruled the country for 29 years, overseeing it’s transition from a Soviet republic to a democratic free-market economy, the fastest growing in Central Asia.

From his position of luxurious exile in France - Ablyazov faces a lifetime in jail in Kazakhstan having been handed sentences for embezzlement and murder - the fugitive has been encouraging dissent in his home country, inciting illegal demonstrations and other acts which have seen a number of arrests for disorder. His aim is to bring down the government, and to portray Kazakhstan’s Presidential elections, which are to be monitored and overseen by observers from the OSCE, as well as record numbers of international journalists, as corrupt. 

His vehement and distasteful attacks on the former President, however, are somewhat at odds with previous comments he has made about the man who entrusted him with high office, and helped him to rise above his modest roots to become a major political player.

In a video seen by EU Today, addressing his remarks to Nazarbayev Ablyazov states “I regret that I did not fully understand how much you did for me as a person. Working with you I learned a lot, no matter how difficult those times were, these were the happiest years of my life… its a pity this wasn’t understood at the time”.

Under Nazarbayev’s guidance, Ablyazov, born into a modest working family, was to become a government minister, with a portfolio covering Energy, Industry, and Trade. However, in 2002 he was accused and found guilty of “abusing official powers as a minister”, receiving a six year prison sentence. He was granted clemency, and released after serving just 10 months, on the understanding that he would withdraw from the world of politics and government.

Following his release Ablyazov was eventually to become head of Kazakhstan’s largest financial institution, the BTA Bank, which he would go on to systematically defraud of some $7.6 billion.

In 2001 Ablyazov had founded a political party, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK/DVK), ostensibly to challenge his one-time mentor, and the man to whom he expressed the greatest of gratitude, he expressed gratitude towards, Nazarbayev. This erstwhile and somewhat unconvincing  political party has now become something of a vehicle for him to present himself as a politically persecuted oppositionist, in an attempt to sanitise his past, as well as providing him with a veneer of “legitimacy” for his subversive activities.

But he does not restrict his political activities to his native Kazakhstan. In 2017 he claimed that he had personally financed the so-called Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, which followed that country’s 2005 parliamentary elections. In the ensuing unrest at least three people were killed, with scores being injured. 

In the EU Ablyazov seeks to exert influence in both the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) using another vehicle of convenience, this time a fake human rights NGO, the Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF), which he allegedly founded and continues to fund with the laundered proceeds of his crimes. It is very difficult for a politician to be seen to be refusing the advances of human rights activists, of course, but this one has an agenda that is tailored to suit Ablyazov’s needs precisely. 

Under the guise of defending the rights of Ablyazov the “persecuted oppositionist”, ODF orchestrates its campaigns in such a way as to undermine the legitimate government of Kazakhstan, and in particular the former president. 

However, this ingenious tool may now be lost to Ablyazov, as ODF has been exposed to allegations that it is complicit in his criminal activities, and that it may have received laundered funds, a mistake that could cost Ablyazov dearly.

EU Today is aware that at the time of writing, individual politicians, in particular Members of the European Parliament who have engaged with the activities of ODF in lobbying for Ablyazov’s interests, have been subject to questions concerning any financial or other benefits they may have received in return for their support. 

Mukhtar Ablyazov’s betrayal of the trust placed in him, and his attempts to undermine and corrupt democratic processes and institutions at home and abroad tell a story of duplicity, dishonesty, and greed, on a grand and unprecedented scale. 

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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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