Italy minister defends handling of Kazakh deportation case

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 16, 2013 1:44 PM
Italy minister defends handling of Kazakh deportation case

By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's Interior Minister Angelino Alfano fought growing calls on Tuesday for his resignation over the deportation of the wife of a dissident Kazakh oligarch, saying he had not been told of the police operation in which she was seized and expelled.

Speaking hours after the head of his private office resigned over the affair, Alfano, a key member of Prime Minister Enrico Letta's fragile coalition government, read a detailed statement in the Senate on the incident.

"I was not informed and nor was any colleague in the government or the prime minister informed," he said, adding that he had demanded a reorganization of the department that oversees expulsions "so this can never happen again".

The operation in which Alma Shalabayeva, wife of Kazakh oligarch Muktar Ablyazov and the couple's six-year old daughter were deported has created a serious problem for Letta, who depends on Alfano's center-right People of Freedom (PDL) party.

On Friday, Alfano will face a no-confidence vote presented by the opposition in the Senate and several senior PDL lawmakers have warned that should parliament vote to remove him, the government would collapse.

Opposition parties dismissed his statement and said he had to go.

"This is not a credible story. It's something from a Grade Z movie," Michele Giarrusso, a Senator from the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement which has filed the no confidence motion.

The Letta government last week rescinded its expulsion order and said Shalabayeva was welcome to return to Italy, while ordering an investigation into the matter.

"We will work tirelessly to ensure that Shalabayeva's human rights are not violated, and to ensure that if it the situation permits it, she is free to return to Italy," Alfano said.

In a statement sent after Alfano's testimony, Letta said the Kazakh ambassador has been summoned to the foreign ministry "for adequate clarifications".

Shalabayeva was taken into custody by Italian police on May 29 when they raided a villa on the outskirts of Rome looking for her husband. She had been living there with her daughter since September of last year.

She was put on a private plane to Kazakhstan two days later and is now at her parents' home in Almaty and cannot leave the city, according to the Kazakh foreign ministry, facing criminal charges related to obtaining false passports for family members.


Earlier on Tuesday, a lawyer for Shalabayeva said Italian police had ignored repeated verbal requests for political asylum. In the police report Alfano read on Tuesday, officials denied hearing of any asylum requests.

Shalabayeva said she had asked for asylum in English several times at the Rome airport before being put on a private plane, and was ignored by the police, according to a document prepared by Shalabayeva with the help of her oldest daughter, who is thought to be residing in Switzerland.

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Ablyazov, a banker and ex-energy minister turned bitter critic of Nazarbayev, fled Kazakhstan after his bank BTA was declared insolvent and nationalized in 2009.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has overseen market reforms and investment inflows that have ensured rapid growth during his two-decade rule, but he has tolerated no dissent and had faced criticism from groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Ablyazov has accused the Kazakh government of arranging for the "kidnapping" of his family, and said he fears his wife will end up in prison and his daughter in an orphanage.

"Shalabayeva is now in the hands of the Kazakh government, which is sadly known for fabricating accusations against political rivals and the people associated with them, and which has a long history of torture, mistreatment and resoundingly unfair trials," John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asian director for Amnesty International, said.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Michael Roddy)