Dissident Kazakh oligarch Ablyazov held in France - sources

LONDON/CANNES, France Thu Aug 1, 2013 4:00am IST

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LONDON/CANNES, France (Reuters) - Mukhtar Ablyazov, a Kazakh businessman accused of embezzling $6 billion from his former bank, BTA BTAS.KZ, has been arrested on the French Riviera, two sources said on Wednesday.

Ablyazov was arrested in the village of Mouans-Sartoux about 8 km (5 miles) north of Cannes in southern France, a police source said. A court hearing has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. (0830 GMT) Thursday, added a second source, who could not confirm the hearing's location.

Ablyazov, 50, denies allegations he says are designed to rob him and eliminate him as a rival to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

He fled the oil-rich Central Asian state after BTA, the bank he once controlled, was nationalised and declared insolvent in 2009. A former government minister, won political asylum in Britain in 2011. He left the United Kingdom in 2012 after being sentenced to jail for contempt of court and has been in hiding since.

He has said his life has been in danger since he left Kazakhstan and he feared for his safety in a British jail.

International police agency Interpol said on its website Ablyazov was wanted by Russia on separate charges including "large scale fraud", money laundering and document forgery. Ablyazov spent time in Russia between 2003 and 2005. He had been put on a so-called Interpol "Red Notice," which is similar to an international arrest warrant.

The French Justice and Interior Ministries made no comment on the case. The French Foreign Ministry and Interpol did not respond to requests for comment.

BTA, controlled by Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna, has filed 11 fraud charges against Ablyazov. To date, the bank has won court approval to seize about $3.7 billion of Ablyazov's assets.

One of Ablyazov's sons, Madiyar Ablyazov, told Reuters in an email his father was in France legally and accused President Nazarbayev of having a "personal vendetta" against his father.

Ablyazov says he fell out with Nazarbayev after campaigning for a change in government at home.

His case made headlines again in June after his wife and 6-year-old daughter were discovered and summarily deported from Italy to Kazakhstan, prompting calls for the resignation of Italy's interior minister.

Brimming with resources such as oil, gas, gold and uranium, Kazakhstan's steppes stretch from the Caspian Sea to the Chinese border in a sparsely inhabited country the size of west Europe.

As a former government minister, Ablyazov was imprisoned in 2002, a year after his disenchantment with Nazarbayev's authoritarian rule prompted him to found the opposition party, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan.

Pardoned in 2003, he spent two years in exile in Russia, rebuilding his businesses. He returned to Kazakhstan, under an amnesty with Nazarbayev, to lead BTA from 2005 until 2009. He fled to London after BTA was seized by the sovereign wealth fund and declared insolvent in 2009. (Additional reporting by Natalie Huet and Gerard Bon in Paris; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer, David Evans and Stacey Joyce)

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