An English judge has barred lawyers representing fugitive Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, accused of embezzling $6 billion from his former bank BTA , from making oral submissions to court because he has been serially in contempt of court.
High Court Judge Andrew Popplewell said Ablyazov, who has been in hiding since being given a 22-month jail sentence for contempt of court last year, had flouted court orders including those calling for him to hand himself in and fully divulge his assets.
BTA, controlled by Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna, has brought 11 fraud charges against Ablyazov in a tortuous legal battle that, to date, has seen the bank win court approval to seize around $3.7 billion of his assets.
Ablyazov, an entrepreneur and former Kazakh government minister, fled Kazakhstan in 2009 after the bank he once controlled was seized by the government and declared insolvent. He was granted political asylum in Britain in 2011.
He denies allegations he says are designed to rob him and eliminate him as a rival to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. He has said his life has been in danger since he left Kazakhstan and he feared for his safety in a British jail.
Judge Popplewell said "justice requires that Mr Ablyazov should not be heard", in a judgment made public on Thursday.
"His deliberate and persistent refusal to comply with court orders, or to recognise the authority of the court, has been a sustained contempt of a very grave nature. His contempt has seriously impeded the course of justice," he said.
Ablyazov, a theoretical physics graduate who built a fortune by snapping up banking and media assets in the 1990s after the Soviet Union collapsed, says he fell out with Nazarbayev after campaigning for a change in government at home.
His case hit the headlines again in June after his wife and six-year-old daughter were discovered and summarily deported from Italy to Kazakhstan, prompting calls for the resignation of Italy's interior minister.
Although BTA says Ablyazov owns around 700 companies, many are allegedly controlled via a chain of companies using trusted nominees and holding companies often registered in offshore jurisdictions, making them tricky to track.
The bank, which alleges this allows Ablyazov to continue to trade and hide assets in breach of a worldwide freezing order, is asking the court to order receivers to disclose documents and information that might help it start recovering cash.
Ablyazov's lawyers will be barred from orally representing their client during this application, setting a precedent for further such hearings.
In the meantime, the bank has started selling the easiest assets, such as Ablyazov's former north London mansion, in which he once lived with his wife and three of his four children.
Carlton House, which has seven en suite bedrooms, a 50ft ballroom, a swimming pool, a Turkish bath and car lift, is on the market for offers over 15.75 million pounds ($24 million).
The proceedings continue.