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Italian Policemen Sentenced for Kidnapping Kazakh Ex-Banker’s Family

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Italian Policemen Sentenced for Kidnapping Kazakh Ex-Banker’s Family

Italian police staged a special operation to detain and repatriate the wife and daughter of Mukhtar Ablyazov in 2013. Now seven of those involved were sentenced. 

Italian Policemen Sentenced for Kidnapping Kazakh Ex-Banker’s Family
Credit: Pixabay

All mitigating factors were dismissed when an Italian judge sentenced the two police chiefs responsible for the “extraordinary rendition” of the wife of a fugitive opposition figure from Kazakhstan and their daughter from Rome to Almaty in 2013.

The Italian court’s strong hand exceeded the punishment requested by the prosecutor and sentenced Renato Cortese, ex-chief of police in Rome, and Maurizio Improta, ex-migration police chief in Rome, to five years in prison for kidnapping Alma Shalabayeva and her daughter Alua on May 19, 2013. Lower ranking policemen Luca Armeni and Francesco Stampacchia now also face five years in prison, while migration police clerks Vincenzo Tramma and Stefano Leoni were given four and three-and-a-half years sentences. Justice of the Peace Stefania Lavore was sentenced to two-and-a-half years for making false claims regarding Shalabayeva and her family.

Alma Shalabayeva is the wife of Mukhtar Ablyazov, ex-banker and exiled opposition figure, who was on the run in 2013 from European police. He faced a sentence in Kazakhstan for large-scale embezzlement and one in the U.K. for contempt of court. In Italy, the justice system was on a hunt for him on suspicion of terrorism, accusations that later turned out to be unfounded.

Special police forces entered a Roman villa where Shalabayeva, a political refugee, resided and apprehended her and her 6-year-old daughter Alua. They were then sent to the airport for an immediate repatriation to Kazakhstan on a plane rented by the Kazakh Embassy in Rome and flown by a pilot that used to work for Eni, Italy’s flagship oil and gas company.

While Eni denied any involvement in the operation, its energy interests in Kazakhstan and journalistic investigations suggest otherwise.

Then-Interior Minister Angelino Alfano was pressured into reporting to Parliament about the incident, which he said happened outside of his purview. 

“I was not informed and nor was any colleague in the government or the prime minister informed,” Alfano told members of parliament. He ultimately survived a vote of no confidence.

In 2016, however, new evidence showed that the minister was well aware of the operation and that the day before then-Ambassador to Italy Andrian Yelemessov contacted his office on the matter.

Ministerial cadres left office in the aftermath of the events, a sign that something in the system had gone wrong.

Shalabayeva and her daughter returned to Rome in December 2013, after long diplomatic negotiations.

In the meantime, however, European police tracked down Ablyazov, who was arrested in France in July 2013. He was ultimately freed in 2016.

After the trial of the Italian police, Shalabayeva seemed satisfied with the sentence, although it is likely to be appealed.

“In my country, the result would have been different. I’m impressed by the independence of the Italian justice system,” she told Italian media.

The appeal will likely hinge on the fact that only police cadres were sentenced in this case, as if they had a personal interest in the operation. “Whoever gave the order, got off scot-free,” said Shalabayeva’s lawyer Astolfo Di Amato.

At the end of September, Ablyazov received political refugee status in France, sheltering him further from Kazakhstan’s pleas for his deportation. Still, the long arm of Kazakhstan’s persecution of the government’s number one enemy was felt just a week after, when he was arrested on charges of embezzlement, put forward by Kazakhstan’s interior ministry. Ablyazov was later released, but remains under judicial oversight.

Ablyazov and his family are no strangers to suspicious activity: Besides the accusations in various jurisdictions of having embezzled between $5 billion and $7.5 billion before fleeing Kazakhstan and abandoning his once-successful BTA Bank, the former banker was highlighted as one of the protagonists of the FinCEN Files, an investigation on suspicious activity reports regarding international financial transactions that passed through U.S. banks.