The former Kazakh energy and trade minister Ablyazov, who became an opposition leader before fleeing the country over accusations he embezzled billions of dollars, was arrested n a six-bedroom house near the resort of Cannes, on a warrant issued by Ukraine.
Solange Legras, prosecutor at the local court handling his case, said the 50-year-old would likely be put in prison as authorities examine extradition requests against him and decide whether to deport him.
Once close to the Kazakh elite, Ablyazov fell out of favor and became a foe of strongman Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled the ex-Soviet country for almost 22 years, bringing economic reforms, but cracking down hard on dissent.
Ablyazov was jailed in 2002 for abuse of power and illegal business activities after co-founding and leading an opposition party, in a move widely seen as a bid to silence him.
He was quickly pardoned and released, though, and returned to finance where he had made his fortune, leading the Kazakh BTA Bank, which also had interests in Ukraine.
However, in 2009, he fled to Britain amid accusations he stole billions of dollars in state and investor funds. He is believed to have stayed there until he was sentenced to 22 months in jail for contempt of court.
He did not surrender to the British authorities and is then thought to have moved to Italy before his arrest in the south of France.
Three countries want his extradition — Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine, where BTA also had interests.
The claims against the former head of BTA Bank are also international investors, including several major banks in France.
List of victims of the Mukhtar Ablyazov stretched out over several pages. Among the major financial institutions have lost millions of funds were French «BNP Paribas», «Societe Generale», «BRED Banque Populaire» and «Credit Agricole». In total, according to estimates of a number of investigators, the total amount of damage inflicted by lenders around the world, more than U.S. $ 6 billion.
Today Mukhtar Ablyazov can be called one of the largest financial machinations of the world. For comparison, Bernard Madoff was able to lead through hedge funds 65 billion. But he did it more than 25 years. Ablyazov had enough, and a five-year period.
Legras said France and Kazakhstan do not have an extradition agreement, and had initially said that Russia may no longer want to pursue him.
However, a Russian interior ministry spokesman told the Interfax news agency that Moscow was drawing up the documents required for demanding the extradition of Ablyazov.
The oligarch was arrested by 15 police officers in a dramatic raid on the villa he was renting in Mouans-Sartoux, as a helicopter hovered in case he decided to escape.
“There was no violence. There had been some risks [of violence] as he is protected by a kind of private militia,” Legras said.
According to a police officer working on the case, who wished to remain anonymous, Ablyazov had been moving regularly between three different villas in a bid to avoid scrutiny, along with his sister, niece and house personnel.
Some of his family members have already been caught and deported back to Kazakhstan. His wife and six-year-old daughter were extradited from Italy in May without the right to appeal, sparking a huge scandal in the country.
In a statement in the Italian daily La Stampa, two more of his children called on French authorities not to extradite him to Ukraine.
World media monitoring