Billionaire banker Mukhtar Ablyazov was Kazakhstan’s minister of energy and trade from 1998 to 1999. In 2009, Ablyazov fled Kazakhstan after $10 billion was reported missing from BTA Bank, where he was chairman. He was arrested in France in 2013 in response to extradition requests from Russia and Ukraine. Ablyazov denied allegations of loan fraud and embezzlement. He was released in December 2016 after a French court ruled that Russia’s request was politically motivated.
Ablyazov owned CFJ Star Trust, which was set up in the Cayman Islands in 2007, with a brother-in-law, Syrym Shalabayev. Shalabayev was also accused of involvement in the alleged BTA loan fraud. He denied the charges and was granted refugee status in Lithuania in 2016. CFJ Start Trust became inactive in November 2011 and closed in October 2012. “Efforts are being made to resign as Trustees,” an Appleby employee typed in red as part of a 2012 audit of high-risk clients.
Ablyazov did not respond to a request for comment from ICIJ before publication.
On 5 Nov., a spokesman for Ablyazov told ICIJ that the trust was established “in view of a private placement for investors in BTA Bank.” The placement did not take place. The company was incorporated offshore to mitigate the risks of state corruption, Ablyazov said. Ablyazov said he did not flee Kazakhstan. “BTA Bank’s finances were in strong shape and the bank was preparing for an IPO on the London market,” Ablyazov said, and losses “were caused not by Mr Ablyazov, but by the wholly illegal forced nationalisation of BTA Bank.”