Italy to revoke expulsion of Kazakh oligarch's wife

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 12, 2013 3:02 PM

By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) - Italy said on Friday it would revoke a deportation order against the wife and daughter of Kazakh oligarch and dissident Mukhtar Ablyazov, criticizing serious failings in a procedure it maintained was conducted without its knowledge.

The mysterious operation in which the two were expelled from Italy at the end of May was in formal accordance with the law, but new information came to light showing that it was not justified, a government statement said.

"It was a grave failure not to inform the government of the entire episode, which had from the start elements and characteristics that were not ordinary," Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta's office said in the statement.

The woman, Alma Shalabayeva, and her six-year-old daughter were taken into custody by Italian police on May 29 when they raided a villa on the outskirts of Rome where she had been living since September of last year. Two days later, they were put on a non-commercial flight to Kazakhstan.

"This confirms that it was all done in way too much of a hurry," Ernesto Gregorio Valenti, one of Shalabayeva's lawyers, told Reuters.

"It was a colossal error" and "wasn't even close to legal," he said.

At the end of June a court in Rome annulled decrees prosecutors had issued to authorize the raid and said it was "perplexed" at the speed of the deportation, which contrasted markedly with the normally sluggish pace of the Italian bureaucracy.

Shalabayeva and her daughter are now staying at her parents home in Almaty, and she has been ordered not to leave the city, Valenti said.

"The damage has been done," Valenti said.

NO DISSENT

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has overseen market reforms and foreign investment inflows that have ensured rapid economic growth during his two-decade rule, but he has tolerated no dissent.

Ablyazov told Reuters in an interview in December that he would run for office if free elections were called when Nazarbayev's rule ends.

A former government minister, Ablyazov fled the oil-rich Central Asian state after his bank BTA was nationalized and declared insolvent in 2009. He was granted political asylum in Britain in 2011.

BTA has brought fraud charges against Ablyazov and his allies. Accused of embezzling $6 billion, he has been in hiding since last year when he fled Britain after missing a contempt-of-court hearing at which he was due to be jailed for 22 months.

Though now an international scandal, the affair has also brought trouble to Letta's fragile left-right coalition government, with Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano in the firing line.

As interior minister, Alfano oversees the police force that carried out Shalabayeva's expulsion.

But according to Friday's government statement, he was not informed of the operation, prompting the two main opposition parties to present a parliamentary motion to remove him as interior minister.

"The revocation of the expulsion order is very good, but now there must be clarity about what happened in an affair that is full of dark shadows," the opposition 5-Star Movement said in a statement.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by James Mackenzie and Michael Roddy)