This week’s meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg, France, has drawn highly critical attention to an institution which, whilst largely unheard of by the general public, is influential in the context of global politics. The main point of interest was the ploy by Russia to have its representatives re-admitted to PACE following withdrawal of their voting rights in the aftermath of the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.
On Tuesday (June 25th) upon the initiative of PACE Member, Italian senator, Roberto Rampi, the controversial Human Rights NGO Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF) and the Italian Federation for Human Rights organised a side-event under the banner “Post-elections scenarios in Ukraine, Moldova and Kazakhstan. Between political uncertainty and regime consolidation”.
The moderator was Lyudmyla Kozlovska, President of the Foundation, recently implicated by Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper in serious money laundering allegations. ODF, the Sunday Times reported, was allegedly founded and funded, and is under the control of, the notorious Kazakh fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, who has convictions for fraud and murder, as well as outstanding extradition warrants from at least three state.
Ms. Kozlovska and ODF have also been accused of being in receipt of Russian money, and having done business with Russian entities that are subject to US/EU sanctions arising from the illegal Crimean annexation, which raises questions over her presence in Strasbourg at this particular time.
Speakers at the event included Kazakh citizen Bota Jardemalie, who is wanted in connection with Ablyazov’s crimes, and Antonio Stango, of the aforementioned Italian Federation for Human Rights. Senator Rampi’s event was also reportedly attended by French MP Andre Gattolin, who whilst he did not speak at the event, appears to enjoy a “good relationship” with ODF.
Ms. Jardemalie, who currently resides in an upmarket suburb of Brussels, Belgium, in the guise of a ‘political refugee’, is the sister of former Kazakh businessman Iskander Yerimbetov, currently serving a seven-year prison sentence in his home country for embezzlement.
The event did not arouse any significant interest; the meeting room was almost empty. According to a source from the the Council of Europe, who has information on the preparation of the event, speaking on condition of anonymity, around ten parliamentarians had been invited, but apart from Senator Rampi, only French Senator Andre Gattolin showed up.
As appears to be standard practice at ODF conferences, not a single question was taken from the press. It was noted, however, that Ms. Jardemalie was allowed to dominate proceedings, speaking for 22 of the allowed 60 minutes. Her intervention was largely an invective against former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, and the newly elected and formally recognised by the EU, US, UK and other countries President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
This event was effectively a lobbying event on the behalf of Mukhtar Ablyazov and other extremely wealthy wanted and convicted criminals, most, if not all, of whom appear to be implicated in Ablyazov’s crimes, and questions must be asked as to how this was allowed to happen under the auspices of such an important international institution as PACE.
Given the criminal background of Mukhtar Ablyazov, and the serious questions hanging over ODF and the event of June 25th, Senator Rampi was asked questions by a senior Brussels journalist concerning whether either he or any of his family members had ever received money or other gifts/services from the Open Dialog Foundation, it’s employees, or from Mukhtar Ablyazov or any of his family members.
The Senator was also asked if he was aware of recent allegations, and evidence presented, about the Open Dialog Foundation published in the British Sunday Times newspaper in April of this year, and other articles in European media that reveal the details of this organisation’s involvement in money laundering activities, and if he believes that ODF is a credible human rights organisation.
The questions were posed to the Senator on multiple occasions, however no response was received.
Journalists note that during his closing remarks, an embarrassed looking Rampi made vague comments about human rights, but was careful enough to avoid any real discussion of the subject of the conference.
Similar questions e-mailed recently to British Labour MEP Julie Ward, prompted by her interventions to Interpol on behalf of Mukhtar Ablyazov, and apparently at the behest of ODF, were met with banal, and non-committal comments that failed to either confirm or deny the questions posed.
On June 25th PACE representatives were met by a sizeable number of representatives of the Kazakh diaspora from all over Europe, who organised a picket outside the Council of Europe building in Strasbourg.
The impetus for this rally was frustration at the inaction of EU authorities, who have failed take any measures against Ablyazov and his criminal syndicate, many of who reside in EU member states, and who have outstanding extradition warrants against them, who are implicated in organised criminal activities, and whose extradition is demanded by at least three states where they are wanted in relation to serious fraud charges, and outstanding convictions for embezzlement and murder.
Picketers called and chanted in Kazakh, English, French and Russian languages, “Mukhtar is a fraudster” and “The fraudster must be jailed”, calling for him to be either extradited, or to be brought to justice in France.
This ODF event was little more than platform for interested parties to make statements and to defend their own positions; it was in effect a lobbying event on behalf of rich individuals who wish to avoid responsibility for the crimes they have committed.