Mukhtar Ablyazov, accused of embezzling $5bn in one of world’s biggest frauds, found guilty of lying to high court over assets
A high court judge has issued an arrest warrant for a Kazakh billionaire accused of committing one of the world’s biggest ever frauds.
Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is alleged to have embezzled $5bn (£3.2bn), was found guilty of lying to the court about the scale of his vast fortune, including a £17m mansion on The Bishops Avenue, known as London’s “billionaires’ row”. Mr Justice Teare sentenced Ablyazov to 22 months in jail for “serious” and “brazen” contempt of court in trying to hide more than £34m of assets from creditors, who claim he siphoned off billions of pounds from the Kazakh bank he used to run, BTA.
Ablyazov fled to Britain in 2009 after the bank he chaired defaulted on £8bn of debt owed to majority-state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Barclays and others. The judge said Ablyazov has been accused of “fraud on an epic scale” and of using the bank “as if it were his own private source of funds”.
Teare issued a warrant for Ablyazov’s immediate arrest when he failed to turn up to his sentencing on Thursday.
Lawyers for BTA said they feared Ablyazov, who has been granted political asylum and lives in Carlton House on Bishops Avenue, may have already fled the country. Stephen Smith QC said he believed Ablyazov was “on his way to getting out of it [the country]” and requested permission to “alert ports, airports and the coastguard to try and stop him going”.
The defence pointed out that Ablyazov was not in possession of his passport. However, it was noted that it would not be hard for a man as wealthy as Ablyazov to acquire a new one.
Judge Teare found Ablyazov guilty of three counts of contempt of court for “remarkable and brazen” lying on oath. “[Ablyazov] chose not to disclose some of his assets, to lie on oath and to deal with some of his assets,” Teare said.
The former banker had told the court he did not own Carlton House, nor an £18m 100-acre estate near Windsor called Oakland Park, once owned by computers billionaire Michael Dell, nor an apartment in Albert Court, a gated complex near Lord’s cricket ground. However, the judge said the prosecution had proved that Ablyazov was a shareholder in the companies registered as the owners of the properties.
Teare said Ablyazov’s lies about his ownership of Carlton House, which features a Turkish bath with room for 12, were “particularly brazen” as he should have expected the claimant to investigate his financial interest in the property he claimed to be renting.
Smith said Ablyazov had “lied and lied and lied … and concocted stories to cover up his misdeeds”.
Duncan Matthews QC, for the defence, said the assets Ablyazov failed to declare were “a drop in the ocean” compared to the estimated $5bn of assets he was forced to place into receivership under the control of accountants KPMG. But Teare said the value of the properties, and other undisclosed assets, was “very substantial indeed”.
Teare said Ablyazov’s contempts were “so serious that nothing less than a prison sentence is appropriate”. He said the sentence would be reduced to 12 months if Ablyazov committed to comply with the court from now on. Ablyazov’s lawyers said he would appeal.
The contempt of court case came about in the preamble to one of the world’s biggest embezzlement cases, which includes nine different legal actions pending at the high court.
BTA, which is now owned by the Kazakh government, claims that during Ablyazov’s time as chairman of the bank between 2005 and 2009, he siphoned off more than $5bn through a network of companies that he owns. He denies the embezzlement charges and claims they are politically motivated.
Nikolay Varenko, deputy chairman of BTA, said: “We believe strongly that imprisonment will limit his ability to dissipate assets, encourage him to reverse the improper disposal of assets that he has already made and disclose assets that he has tried to hide from the bank. This judgment should serve as a signal to Mr Ablyazov’s associates that the full force of the law will be pursued to ensure court orders are obeyed.”
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