Syrym Shalabayev – $5 billion thief Arrested in Vilnius

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(London Post Report) Syrym Shalabayev, a member of transnational criminal group and a long time fugitive from authorities in Great Britain, Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan was apprehended by police in Vilnius.

Shalabayev is part of the white-collar mafia clan under the leadership of Mukhtar Ablyazov. This is an international criminal organization specializing in financial fraud. Their most notorious scam involved the ruin of BTA Bank in Kazakhstan in the midst of the global financial crisis. The scamming scheme was simple. Ablyazov, at that time the head of the bank, took up large foreign loans and offered unsecured loans to his own shell companies, which through a network of offshore companies laundered the proceeds. Eventually the money found their way into the criminals’ pockets, a tidy sum of about five billion dollars.

At the same time Ablyazov carried out covering PR operations. Firstly, he formed a political party in Kazakhstan, which he advised not to register, explaining that as the machinations of the local authorities. Secondly, fleeing from prosecution in London, he began to actively sling mud at Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine. The targets of his criticism were obvious – in all of these countries’ law enforcement authorities opened proceedings against Ablyazov.

Interestingly enough, in the early stages his tactic seemed to work. Ablyazov was granted a political refugee status in the UK. However, the High Court in London also investigated a complex case of BTA bank vs. Ablyazov, which helped uncover the truth behind the fugitive oligarch. The legal battles involved some of Britain’s best lawyers on either side. Ablyazov miserably lost that fight. The Court has proven the fraud, seized the property of the defendant and ordered the return of the funds. However, there was one but… During the hearing Ablyazov managed to hide part of the assets.

Syrym Shalabayev was the one who assisted Ablyazov in concealing the stolen funds. He resold the assets and did everything to save his master’s capital. Relations in the mafia clan were built on principles of personal loyalty and kinship. As Ablyazov’s wife’s brother, Syrym put out his best effort.

In court, these efforts sometimes looked ridiculous. During the hearing, Syrym Shalabayev posed as an oligarch. He pretended he owned all the assets that came to courts attention, including the properties at Carlton House and Oaklands Park with a total value of more than £ 30 million, where Mukhtar Ablyazov and his family lived. On trial Ablyazov only modestly hid his eyes, pretending to be the dependent.

Nonetheless, in the end the legal system figured him out. For starters, all of Shalabayev’s companies shared one common feature – they lacked physical assets, and claimed millions of dollars from other offshore companies. It seemed strange. By following the capital’s trail, it proved Ablyazov actually controlled over 600 companies through Shalabayev alone! However, he had other accomplices too.

Syrym Shalabayev was the first accomplice who was charged by the British Court. Concealing information about the beneficial owners and their assets, as well as companies used for appropriating the bank’s assets, he misled the judicial investigation, for which he was sentenced for an 18 months term for contempt of court.

Without waiting for his arrest Shalabayev ran. The British authorities then confiscated Ablyazov’s passport. The naïve logic was that it would prevent him from following his brother in-law. However, when Ablyazov, in turn, was sentenced to 22 months in prison for contempt of court, he simply took a bus across the English Channel to France. It turned out he had “a safe full of passports”.

There were few more people among the intermediaries, who helped hide the oligarch’s assets. They too were convicted by the England court. Salim Shalabayev was charged with providing false testimony in the Court of Appeal. He also escaped. Ablyazov’s representative Paul Kifriotis was convicted for contempt of court in the United Kingdom and Cyprus (where he served a three months sentence).

I do not know how things are done in the faraway Asia, but here in Europe, if a person escapes from justice, while brazenly lying, disregarding the facts – those are clear signs of guilt. And here we see a whole gang of fugitives.

When Ablyazov was caught by Interpol officers in a luxury mansion of French Riviera, I personally had no doubts that this man would be locked up for a long time. That, in general, was confirmed by the judicial proceedings in France for the extradition of Ablyazov. He will soon be passed to Moscow. The prisoner, of course, continues to assert that he is being persecuted for political reasons, but only was able to accomplish that he would be send to a general regime colony, where he will not have to work, and diplomats will visit him, supervising the observance of the rights of prisoners. By the way, Britain revoked Ablyazov’s political refugee status.

Shalabayev’s arrest unlike that of his boss is temporary. Vilnius Regional Court authorized the extradition arrest of Syrym Shalabayeva for three months. However, he should have no reason to be optimistic. He was detained at the request of Ukraine, where the man is suspected for embezzlement of $ 300 million. He is hardly likely to go free. Moreover, there is no political dimension to interfere with justice. Vilnius and Kiev have no contradictions in their relationship.

The fraudster would also have faced allegations in Kazakhstan. Shalabayev would face up to 10 years in prison and confiscation of his property. However, it matters little where he goes to prison, as long as the thief gets what he deserved. The inevitability of punishment – is one of the main aspects of European law and it is important to prevent the erosion of the law enforcement system.

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