The Ablyazov Syndicate

Mukhtar Ablyazov being arrested in France

For more than ten years WorldPR has been involved in efforts to unmask Mukhtar Kabyluly Ablyazov, 57, a criminal fugitive wanted in multiple countries for the embezzlement and laundering of an estimated $7.6 billion from BTA bank of Almaty, Kazakhstan. 

Ablyazov, who is currently under arrest in Paris, has been sentenced in absentia by Kazakh courts to life imprisonment for murder and 20 years for embezzlement. He faces a multiplicity of other charges in different countries, among which a RICO investigation in the US, criminal embezzlement charges in Russia, Georgia and the Ukraine, and he has been sentenced by the English High Court to three concurrent sentences of twenty-two months imprisonment for contempt of court. 

Described by the British press as “the world’s richest fraudster”, Ablyazov was born in 1963 in a village in southern Kazakhstan and graduated with a degree in theoretical physics from the Alma-Ata State University. In the early 90s he built a food and distribution business and quickly become one of his country’s first post-Soviet entrepreneurs. He served as a government minister and ultimately became the head of Kazakhstan’s largest financial institution, BTA Bank, which he acquired after Yerzhan Tatishev, then head of the Bank, was killed in 2004 in what was described at the time as a “hunting accident”.  The man responsible for his death, Muratkhan Tokmadi, a known criminal with strong links to organised crime, received a short jail sentence for “negligent manslaughter”.  He later confessed to having shot Tatishev in the head on the orders of Ablyazov.

By 2008, BTA bank had grown to be the largest commercial financial institution in Kazakhstan.  It was the largest creditor of the Kazakh economy, and owned 30% of all corporate loans as well as subsidiaries in neighbouring Russia, Georgia and the Ukraine.  Ablyazov, who was the bank’s chairman, leveraged the bank’s book value to secure large loans from a consortium of international banks, including HSBC, Barclays, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and Royal Bank of Scotland, which invested $1.8 billion of private pension funds with the bank.

In reality, after taking control of the bank Ablyazov masterminded a sophisticated fake loans scheme that between 2005 and 2009 syphoned an estimated $7.6 billion through a network of more than 1,000 offshore companies controlled by him.  Many hundreds of millions are believed to have been laundered through UK legal entities. The massive shortfall in the bank’s books was only discovered in 2009 by auditors from PriceWaterhouse Coopers. As the net closed around him, Ablyazov fled Kazakhstan to London and applied for asylum on the grounds of “political persecution” by the Kazakhstan government. In London he lived a life of opulence and is believed to have owned three private planes and more than one thousand apartments, 106 cars and twenty luxury villas.  He nurtured relations with Kazakh opposition media and resuscitated the defunct Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) political party in a transparent attempt to create a political alibi.  BTA bank, meanwhile, faced insolvency and was twice bailed out by Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund, which became its majority shareholder.  

In March 2009, BTA bank started civil proceedings against Ablyazov in the London High Court.  Those proceedings, which are the largest in British legal history, have uncovered three major criminal schemes by which Ablyazov and his co-conspirators defrauded pensioners, investors, companies and even British tax-payers of billions of dollars.  In more than a decade of litigation, BTA has secured High Court judgments against Ablyazov in excess of $4.9 billion, but only a fraction of the bank’s stolen funds have ever been recovered.  Ablyazov’s closest criminal associate, Viktor Khrapunov, a former Mayor of the city of Almaty who is subject to more than twenty criminal prosecutions, has been found guilty of defrauding the Kazakh state of $300 million. In August 2018, the London High Court ruled that Khrapunov’s son, Ilyas, who is married to Ablyazov’s eldest daughter Madina, had conspired with Mukhtar Ablyazov to swindle over $6 billion.  

Having committed “fraud on an epic scale”, in the words of one British judge, in 2012 Ablyazov once again fled jurisdiction, escaping London on a coach the day before he was due to be sentenced to imprisonment for contempt of court. He reappeared in France using a previously undisclosed passport from the Central African Republic.  In August 2013 Ablyazov was arrested by French police and held in prison on a Russian arrest warrant. Russia’s attempt to extradite him was, however, blocked in 2015 by France’s highest administrative court. For a while, Ablyazov disappeared into obscurity in the French provinces.

Then, in October 2020, the persistence of BTA bank and the Kazakh authorities paid off when the Paris state prosecutor ordered Ablyazov’s arrest. He has been charged with aggravated abuse of trust and money laundering and a French criminal investigation has formally been opened.

YouTube documentary film:  The Ablyazov Syndicate

Read the Bloomberg story here: Fight for Kazakhstan’s Looted Billions Lands in New York Courts