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France Orders Extradition of Kazakh Banker, Russia Tightens Grip on Ukraine With Gas Deal

Plus, contradictory court decisions on two ex-Yugoslav spy chiefs, and a cache of looted art returns to Poland.

by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Karlo Marinovic 10 January 2014

1. Dissident Kazakh banker should be sent to Russia or Ukraine, French court says


Mukhtar AblyazovMukhtar Ablyazov
A French court has ordered the extradition of Kazakh opposition figure Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is wanted at home in connection with a massive embezzlement scheme, Radio Free Europe reports.


In French custody since his July arrest in Cannes, Ablyazov stands accused of stealing $6 billion as head of Kazakh bank BTA from 2004 to 2009. While Kazakhstan has no extradition treaty with France, the court ruled 9 January that he could be sent to Ukraine or Russia, both of which have requested his extradition.


Ablyazov's lawyer plans to appeal. Amnesty International urged France not to extradite Ablyazov, saying he wouldn't receive a fair trial in Ukraine or Russia and would eventually wind up back in Kazakhstan, "where he will be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment."


Ablyazov’s wife, Alma Shalabaeva, was controversially deported from Italy to Kazakhstan after his arrest but was allowed to return last month, Reuters reports.


A prominent foe of strongman Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Ablyazov says the charges against him are political. The UK granted him asylum in 2009, after the Kazakhstani government seized BTA, but he fled last year after a British court sentenced him to 22 months in prison for contempt of court, Reuters writes.


BTA said in a statement that the ruling would help recover the lost money. To date, only a fraction of it has been found, according to a new Bloomberg feature on what it calls possibly "the biggest financial fraud case since Bernard Madoff's $17 billion Ponzi scheme blew up in 2008."


2. Russia to be Ukraine's only gas provider


Following a new supply deal with Moscow, Ukraine will stop buying European natural gas, making Russia its sole supplier, RIA Novosti reports.


Since 2012, Kyiv has been buying gas from Poland and Hungary in an effort to diversify away from Russia, which has cut Ukrainian gas supplies in the past after pricing disputes. Ukraine was also reportedly close to a gas deal with Slovakia.


But under an agreement reached in December and finalized 9 January, Russia agreed to slash Ukraine's gas prices by one-third to $268 per 1,000 cubic meters from 1 January. While it's unclear whether Moscow issued a quid pro quo on buying from Europe, the new price must be renewed quarterly – giving it strong leverage – and Ukraine's Energy Ministry said it would buy only Russian gas because it is cheapest.


This follows an about-face by Ukraine on plans to sign an agreement in November strengthening economic and political ties with the European Union. Under pressure from Moscow, President Viktor Yanukovych said he instead wanted to focus on economic relations with Russia, sparking mass pro-Europe demonstrations across Ukraine.


Moscow subsequently offered Ukraine a substantial aid package that included the gas price cuts. Nevertheless, with the demonstrations continuing, Ukrainian leaders aren't taking an EU deal off the table. On 9 January, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said Kyiv would soon begin negotiations to prepare for signing the so-called Association Agreement, Radio Ukraine International reports.


3. Yugoslav, Croatian spy chief Perkovic could face justice for 1983 murder


A former head of the Yugoslav secret service can be extradited to Germany, a Croatian court has ruled, while a different court decided against extraditing another former communist chief spy for the same crime.


Zagreb County Court approved the extradition of Josip Perkovic to Germany 8 January, Reuters reports, a week after he was arrested on the basis of a law passed under pressure from the EU.


Josip PerkovicJosip Perkovic
Perkovic and another former chief of the Yugoslav secret service (UDBA), Zdravko Mustac, are wanted in Germany in connection with the 1983 killing of a Croatian defector. Perkovic went on to help start the Croatian intelligence service when the country broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991 and subsequently held senior security positions, Reuters reports.


Perkovic’s case became controversial when the Croatian parliament amended a law days before the country’s July accession to the EU, barring extradition of suspects for crimes committed before 2002.


EU officials warned of financial sanctions unless the extradition law was brought into line with those of most other union members.


Zdravko MustacZdravko Mustac
On 9 January the county court of Velika Gorica, outside Zagreb, said the statute of limitations prevented Mustac’s extradition, also in connection with the 1983 killing, Balkan Insight reports.

A lawyer representing both Perkovic and Mustac, Anto Nobilo, said he would appeal the Perkovic decision at the Croatian Supreme Court on the same grounds.


Germany believes both former UDBA heads were involved in the murder of Yugoslav dissident Stjepan Djurekovic because of his alleged financing of sympathizers of the Croatian nationalist Ustasha movement, according to Balkan Insight.


Both men reject the allegation and accuse former UDBA operative Vinko Sindicic of lying in his testimony against them.


A German court sentenced suspect Krunoslav Prates to life imprisonment for Djurekovic’s murder in 2008.


4. Koran burning video also appears to show victim of anti-Muslim attack


Russian authorities are investigating a video that surfaced on YouTube of men burning a Koran in retaliation for last month's terrorist attacks in Volgograd, RIA Novosti reports.


Uploaded 5 January, the video depicts a group of young men described as fans of Moscow's CSKA soccer team – known for its extreme nationalist followers – setting fire to a Russian translation of the Koran before cutting to a frightened young man on the Moscow subway who is being forced to repeat, "I renounce Allah." The man appears to have a head injury and may have been beaten, RFE reports.


The video upload source goes by the name Oleg Makarov, whose Facebook page identifies him as a Muscovite and includes links to a blog criticizing Russian authorities and Muslims, according to RIA.


The video has subtitles linking the Koran burning to last month's suicide bombings in Volgograd, southern Russia. Islamist rebels from the restive North Caucasus are suspected to be responsible, and the attacks have raised concerns about security at the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month.


5. Wartime art booty returns to Warsaw museum


Polish authorities have welcomed the return of 80 paintings and drawings stolen from the Warsaw National Museum during World War II, although a far higher number of artifacts looted by German forces during the war are still missing. The Economist’s Eastern Approaches blog writes that the current collection, which includes works by Polish artists Alfred Schouppé and Ignacy Lopienski, was returned to Poland by an anonymous Austrian collector.


Presenting the collection on 8 January, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said the government had not paid for the return of the works in line with state policy.


The works were probably looted after the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 and later stored with other stolen art at Fischhorn Castle in Austria, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.


According to Eastern Approaches, a state inventory lists more than 60,000 artifacts stolen during the Nazi occupation of Poland which are still missing, although the number could be much higher. Russia is also thought to hold many works taken from conquered territory at the end of the war.


In September 2012, a painting by the German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach the Elder, Madonna Under a Fir Tree, was returned to its hometown of Wroclaw after going missing for almost 70 years. Initially smuggled out of the country after the communist takeover of Poland, the painting turned up as a donation to a Swiss diocese, which returned it to Catholic authorities in Wroclaw, formerly Breslau.


Another famous painting coveted by the Foreign Ministry’s unit in charge of retrieving stolen art is Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man, the Economist’s blogger writes. A ministry art expert said in 2012 he believed the painting was in a bank vault “in a certain country,” according to The Art Newspaper


Raphael, stolen“Portrait of a Young Man” by Raphael is one of the most famous looted paintings of World War II still unaccounted for.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Karlo Marinovic is a TOL editorial intern.
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