Belgium’s second Kazakhgate unfolds

    Tuesday, 19 November 2019
    In 2009, after auditors at PwC identified a massive hole – more than $10 billion – in the BTA’s balance sheets, many of its bank leaders fled from Kazakhstan, settling in EU counties.

    Belgium again finds itself amidst a scandal that threatens to become “Kazakhgate-II”.

    With the Le Soir publication “Belgium extends a helping hand to the Kazakh police”, the former managing director of the notorious Kazakh BTA Bank and political refugee Bota Jardemalie was spotted throughout the country.

    On October 1, the apartment of Jardemalie, a Kazakh lawyer associated with Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, was raided in the presence of two law enforcement agents from Kazakhstan. Thus, Belgium accepted the request of the Central Asian republic for mutual legal assistance in criminal matters.

    According to sources close to the case, this request was being examined for about a year and has been accepted only after police officers from the Economic Crime Department conducted their investigation.

    A preliminary investigation revealed that the political refugee “has a prosperous lifestyle, does not pay taxes in Belgium and doesn’t show her income.” These facts attracted the attention of judge and law enforcement officers.

    Some facts from the curriculum vitae

    Jardemalie was born in the Southern city Almaty in Kazakhstan. At the age of 43, she brings up her son and now lives in one of the prestigious Brussels regions, Uccle.

    After graduating from a law university in Kazakhstan in the late 1990s, she entered Harvard University. Having a prestigious American education, in 2005 she got a job at Kazakh BTA Bank, which the head of this financial institution, Mukhtar Ablyazov, later on allegedly defrauded to an amount over $4 billion.

    Jardemalie made a successful career at this bank. In the press on this subject there are many publications about the alleged close relations Jardemalie had with her boss, Ablyazov. In 3 years, Bota became the managing director and member of the board of this largest private bank for that period on the soil of the former USSR.

    In 2009, after auditors at PwC identified a massive hole – more than $10 billion – in the BTA’s balance sheets, Ablyazov, Jardemalie, and other bank leaders fled from Kazakhstan, settling in the EU counties.

    The former head of the financial institution found himself on the “billionaire’s row”, the Bishops avenue, in London, and Jardemalie – in the south of Brussels.

    Since then, there has been an ongoing lawsuit between BTA Bank and Mukhtar Ablyazov. Most of the bank executives fleeing abroad returned to Kazakhstan in 2018. As for Jardemalie however, Belgium granted her political refugee status.

    Ablyazov himself, who is thought the main opponent of the first president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who headed this oil-rich country of Central Asia for more than 30 years, subsequently fled from the United Kingdom to France.

    Jardemalie, being in the shade for a long time, was engaged in legal defense of Ablyazov and other of his associates. She has been engaged in open human rights activities since the beginning of 2018. She started her Twitter account in October last year, where she still publishes human rights features.

    What is Jardemalie suspected of in Kazakhstan?

    Jardemalie is charged with participation in fraud of Mukhtar Ablyazov, from whom in 2012 the High Court of England ordered to recover more than $4 billion in favor of BTA Bank and sentenced him to 22 months in prison for failing to disclose his assets and lying under the oath.

    However, Ablyazov did not serve his time in jail, having fled from the UK using the diplomatic passport issued by the Central African Republic. Since then, he has been living in France, where he had been awaiting his extradition for 3 years in prison, but was eventually released by decision of the French Council of State.

    The decision by the Council of State canceled the extradition order which had been signed by then-Prime Minister Manuel Valls in 2015, which gave the green light to send Ablyazov either to Ukraine or Russia, where he had also caused significant financial damage.

    In 2013, the Kazakh authorities issued an international arrest warrant for Jardemalie, accusing her of “misappropriation or embezzlement of entrusted property” while she was at BTA Bank.

    Jardemalie, who is called in BTA Bank Ablyazov’s “right hand”, allegedly by order of her boss, registered shell companies through which BTA Bank’s funds drained away from Kazakhstan.

    It is believed that Jardemalie has been personally involved in illegal loans issued by BTA Bank worth approximately $100 million. Most of the stolen money was withdrawn through the Latvian bank Trastakomercbank and the Bank of Cyprus. The documents of the credit committee allegedly bear her signature.

    Following her arrival to Belgium, Jardemalie founded the company Botagoz Jardemaliee SPRL, which offers advice on cross-border litigation cases and managing profitable projects developed between the European Union and Kazakhstan. Now this company is sold and officially the Kazakh woman is not engaged in business and is not registered as a lawyer in Belgium.

    Jardemalie’s network in Belgium

    In Brussels, Jardemalie made acquaintance with an expert in the field of immigration, criminal and political law, Emmanuel Ruchat, who “advised her to obtain refugee status.”

    In March 2013, her company, Jardemaliee SPRL, changed its name to Ponte Mundi, and in February 2016, it was sold to Ruchat Lexial, where Jardemalie herself was appointed as managing director.

    According to media reports, Jardemalie managed to create a network of assistants, including influential lobbyist Daniel Schwammenthal, who has extensive contacts among members of the European Parliament.

    She is personally acquainted with some members of the European Parliament and political advisers, including from the influential group of this European institute “Renew Europe”.

    Jardemalie, Ablyazov, and others, typically accused of money laundering and corruption, are closely associated with the controversial human rights NGO “Open Dialogue”, which the British Sunday Times accused of money laundering.

    Police raid in Brussels

    Belgium recently accepted a request for judicial cooperation from Kazakhstan regarding Bota Jardemalie. On October 1, early in the morning, investigating police raided her apartment, after which they invited a Kazakh woman, who was not in the flat that day, for interrogation.

    During the visit, two law enforcement officers of Kazakhstan were present. This was subsequently confirmed by Justice Minister Cohen Gins, who spoke at the Belgian Parliament on November 6.

    “I confirm that the search took place in Mrs. Jardemalie’s apartment by order of the investigating judge as part of the request for mutual legal assistance issued by the judicial authorities of Kazakhstan,” the minister said.

    “The principle position that mutual legal assistance cannot be provided only because a person has been granted refugee status would inevitably lead to an end of the prosecution of a person who is guilty of the crime,” he emphasized.

    According to the minister, the legal basis for cooperation between the Belgian and Kazakhstani authorities in this particular case (the UN and Europe conventions on combating organized crime and money laundering) “is beyond doubt.”

    “The possible participation of the asylum seeker in other offenses, such as fraud or money laundering, is not taken into account when granting refugee status,” said Cohen Gins.

    It means that when authorities provide this kind of asylum, it is looking at political motives, and some criminal offenses may be missed by the Immigration Office.

    “An interested person or other persons related to the same case are the subject of legal proceedings in France, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the UK,” the Minister of Justice informed the deputies.