In an operation that could have come straight from a Hollywood thriller, investigators tracked down fugitive Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov to his hideaway in the south of France by following a close friend of his all the way from London.
Walking down the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice in London in the hazy evening heat, the blonde Ukrainian lawyer was looking forward to getting back to her villa in the south of France.
She caught a taxi to Heathrow, where she did some shopping before catching a flight to Nice. However, Olena Tyshchenko had no idea that all the while she was she was being trailed by private detectives, whom she led to the fugitive Kazakh billionaire Mukhtar Ablyazov.
Ablyazov, who successfully claimed asylum in Britain before fleeing last year after the High Court sentenced him to prison for contempt of court, was arrested at his six-bedroom villa near Cannes on Wednesday.
A leading member of the opposition to Kazakhstan’s president, he has been accused in a series of civil actions in London of embezzling $6 billion (£3.9 billion) from his native country’s BTA Bank.
Private detectives hired by BTA spent months hunting him before the Ukrainian lawyer unwittingly took them to his hideout on the Riviera, where he had been flitting between three palatial rented properties.
On Monday July 22, Mrs Tyshchenko attended a High Court hearing in London relating to assets that BTA is attempting to recover from Mr Ablyazov, a source with knowledge of the investigators’ operation said.
The judge granted her application for an adjournment, and she left the court building just before 6pm to travel back to the south of France, arriving at the villa where she was staying with her children at 1.30am.
She left an hour later, driving herself to the Villa Neptune in Miramar, where investigators spotted Ablyazov through a window, rearranging a bed in his underwear.
Mrs Tyshchenko left the villa at about midday but returned later the same day. Ablyazov’s car was seen leaving Villa Neptune on the evening of July 26 and driving to the Villa Saint Basile in Mougils. Mrs Tyshchenko visited him there and stayed the night.
On Monday, BTA contacted the French authorities, pointing out that the oligarch was wanted by Ukraine for allegations of fraud and was subject to an Interpol “red notice”.
The next day Ablyazov travelled to a third villa, the Chemin de Castellaras in Mouans-Sartoux. It was here that 15 police officers mounted a raid on Wednesday as a helicopter equipped with thermal image cameras hovered overhead in case the oligarch tried to flee into the forest.
In the end Ablyazov, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, came quietly and was arrested at just before 2pm. He appeared in court in Aix-en-Provence on Thursday and was detained pending extradition proceedings.
Ablyazov, who denies wrongdoing and claims that the allegations against him are politically motivated because of his opposition to the Kazakh regime, is expected to apply to be released from detention next week.
He fled Britain in February last year after he was sentenced to 22 months in jail for contempt of court in relation to the ongoing fraud case.