Kazakh Fugitive Banker’s Family Snatched in Italy Night Raid

Former BTA Bank Chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov’s wife and daughter were deported to Kazakhstan from Italy on June 1 in the latest blow to the fugitive banker.

Alma Shalabayeva and Ablyazov’s 6-year-old daughter Alua were detained in a suburb of Rome during an attempt to arrest him by Italian police, the Prosecutor General’s Office in the Kazakh capital, Astana, said in a statement today. Italian authorities handed them over to Kazakhstan after determining that Ablyazov’s wife used a fake passport issued by the Central African Republic in the name of Ayan Alma, the office said.

Ablyazov, who has been in hiding since last year, said on his Facebook Inc. page that his family was living in Italy legally and called the transfer a “kidnapping” ordered by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Kazakh prosecutors issued an international arrest warrant for Ablyazov in March 2009 on suspicion he embezzled money from BTA and laundered it through loans to fictitious companies. BTA, the country’s biggest lender before it was taken over by sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna four years ago, has filed a series of civil suits against its former chairman claiming he took more than $5 billion from the Almaty-based bank using fake loans, back-dated documents and offshore companies. Ablyazov has denied the accusations, saying the lawsuits against him are politically motivated.

Italian Raid

The Prosecutor General’s Office said in the statement that all charges made by Ablyazov about infractions by Italy during his family’s arrest and handover were “groundless.” Nazarbayev’s press office didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request seeking comment.

Ablyazov, 50, said his wife and daughter were living in Italy using valid residency permits issued in Latvia, a member of the European Union, and both had Kazakh passports received in 2007. They weren’t allowed to show their identification documents and were removed without any arrest warrant or accusations against them by Italian officials, he said on Facebook, adding the raid was conducted by about 30 armed police officers at 4:30 a.m. on May 29.

Kazakh authorities leased a Bombardier Inc. Challenger aircraft owned by Avcon Jet AG in Austria to transport his family, Ablyazov said on his Facebook page. Avcon Jet declined to comment. Ablyazov’s family is now with relatives in Almaty, according to his Facebook page.

Passports, Bribes

“The deportation procedure violated every conceivable international norm,” Ablyazov said today by phone. “I think it’s simply hostage-taking to force me to agree to the conditions set by President Nazarbayev, who wants me to return to Kazakhstan.”

Kazakhstan uncovered evidence that Ablyazov’s relatives including his wife and daughter were illegally issued passports in exchange for bribes, and a case against Atyrau immigration officials is now in court, the Prosecutor General’s Office said. The officials are also investigating Shalabayeva’s role in the alleged crime and barred her from leaving Almaty, the country’s commercial capital, according to the statement.

Ablyazov, who was granted asylum in Britain two years ago, fled the U.K. in February 2012 after being sentenced to 22 months in prison for contempt of court. BTA won judgments against him for about $3.7 billion and London’s High Court last month ordered the sale of several luxury properties in Britain that belonged to Ablyazov, according to a May 21 statement by the bank.

Italian law-enforcement agencies are continuing efforts to locate and detain the banker, Kazakh prosecutors said today.

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