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Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov faces extradition

A French court has ruled that exiled oligarch and dissident Mukhtar Ablyazov should be extradited to Russia and Ukraine. The former Kazakh minister, who intends to appeal, is wanted on embezzlement charges.

A former Kazakh energy and trade minister, Mukhtar Ablyazov (pictured above during his time in office), was accused of stealing around $6 billion dollars (4.4 billion euros) in state and investor funds while he was the head of Kazakhstan's BTA Bank.

As the bank had interests in both Ukraine and Russia, Ablyazov is wanted in both countries on embezzlement charges.

A French court approved extradition requests from Kyiv and Moscow on Thursday, but ruled that Russia's should take priority as the scale of the embezzlement alleged by Moscow, around $5 billion, is far greater than the sum of $400 million alleged by Ukraine.

Ablyazov argued that the allegations against him were fabricated by Kazakhstan because he fell out of favor with the oil-rich country's rulers.

His lawyers said after Thursday's verdict that they would lodge an appeal. They had previously warned that extradition to either Russia or Ukraine could see Ablyazov deported to face an uncertain fate in his home country.

The 50-year-old dissident went into hiding after being handed a prison term for contempt by an English court around 18 months ago. He was arrested near the French Riviera resort of Cannes last July and had been in custody ever since.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan also wants him to face trial - but the country has no extradition treaty with France.

Mukhtar's wife, Alma Shalabayeva, and her 6-year-old daughter were deported back to Kazakhstan in May after living in Italy for around eight months. They were allowed to return in December after the Italian government intervened in the case and Kazakh authorities granted them freedom to travel.

lw/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)