MOSCOW, September 2 (RIA Novosti) – Russian police have detained a lawyer working for Mukhtar Ablyazov, the Kazakh billionaire and former board chairman of BTA Bank who is currently being held in France on an extradition warrant on suspicion of billion-dollar fraud, Kommersant daily reported Monday.
Russian investigators consider Yelena Tischenko, 37, a Ukrainian citizen, is one of Ablyazov’s key associates, and was involved in the legalization of property worth $3.3 billion stolen in Russia, the paper said. They claim she has worked with him since 2010, Kommersant said.
She was detained late Friday night in a Moscow hotel after arriving on a flight from Nicosia, Cyprus, the paper said.
Ablyazov was himself detained July 31 near Cannes, France, and is wanted by the governments of Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine, all of whom are seeking his extradition. In August, Russia's Prosecutor General's Office said it had requested France to extradite Ablyazov.
He was traced to his hideout in France by French investigators monitoring Tischenko’s phone calls, Kommersant reported.
Ablyazov, 50, fled his home country in 2009 after Kazakhstan prosecutors accused him of money laundering and fraud, and issued a warrant for his arrest. He initially went to Britain, where he was granted political asylum in 2011.
The charges against Ablyazov in Kazakhstan relate to the collapse of his now-defunct BTA bank, money laundering and his involvement in a criminal group.
BTA bank was the biggest lender in Kazakhstan before it defaulted on $12 billion of debt and was taken over by the government in 2009.
He denied the charges and claimed his prosecution was part of a politically motivated vendetta against him for falling out with Kazakhstan's long-serving President Nursultan Nazarbayev, The Guardian reported.
BTA Bank filed a series of lawsuits against Ablyazov in the UK High Court shortly after his arrival in London, as a part of a restructuring agreement with creditors to recover $5 billion assets allegedly misappropriated by Ablyazov during his tenure at the bank between 2005 and 2009. The court has already approved the seizure of billions of dollars’ worth of his assets including a London mansion, according to The Independent.
Ablyazov was sentenced by a London High Court judge in February 2012 to 22 months in prison for contempt of court. He fled the UK shortly after the ruling, according to prosecutors.