Top French court approves extradition of Kazakh dissident banker to Russia or Ukraine

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PARIS — France's top appeals court on Wednesday approved the extradition of a Kazakh oligarch-turned-dissident to Russia or Ukraine — but his lawyers urged the French government to reconsider, arguing that the case is politically motivated.

Mukhtar Ablyazov is at the heart of a legal saga that has lasted years and spanned several countries. The bank he once led, BTA, says he embezzled billions, and it cheered Wednesday's ruling by the Court of Cassation as a "landmark" that will help the bank recover some of its assets.

Ablyazov's lawyers say he is being pursued because of his activities as an opposition leader in autocratic Kazakhstan, and fear that he won't get a free trial in Russia or Ukraine. They also suspect he could be eventually transferred to Kazakhstan.

Wednesday's ruling comes at a time of heightened concern in the West about Russia's human rights record, after last week's killing of opposition figure Boris Nemtsov.

Ablyazov fled Kazakhstan amid the nationalization of BTA Bank. He was arrested in southern France in 2013 on embezzling allegations, and both Russia and Ukraine have requested his extradition. France has no extradition agreement with Kazakhstan.

Lower courts ordered him extradited, and the Court of Cassation found Wednesday that there was no legal reason to annul those decisions.

The next step would be for the French government to sign an extradition decree. Ablyazov's lawyers urged the French government not to do so.

Lawyer Peter Sahlas said that Ablyazov could still appeal to France's highest administrative body, the Council of State, or to the European Court of Human Rights, to fight extradition.

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