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Expelled dissident's wife regains freedom, thanks Italy

Shalabayeva free to leave Kazakhstan

24 December, 14:07
Expelled dissident's wife regains freedom, thanks Italy (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, December 24 - The wife of Kazakh oligarch and political dissident Mukhtar Ablyazov thanked Italy on Tuesday after Kazakhstan's foreign ministry said she was free to leave the country.

Alma Shalabayeva and her then six-year-old daughter were deported on a private jet to Kazakhstan after they were seized in May in a raid on a villa in Rome by Italian police following pressure from Kazakstan, causing a major international scandal.

Italy repealed her expulsion order after it emerged Shalabayeva had the legal right to reside here.

Shalabayeva thanked Rome for its role in helping to persuade the Kazak authorities to give her back her freedom of movement in a phone call with Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino Tuesday. Bonino expressed "great satisfaction" and said that Italy's embassy in Astana will "follow (the case) step by step until her departure (from Kazakstan) with her little daughter Adua".

She said an embassy official had gone to the city of Almaty to accompany her to Astana and give the woman a visa that will enable her to return to Europe. "She'll decide where she wants to settle," said Bonino, who explained that she had written to her Kazak counterpart about the case.

"It's the positive end to an affair that the (Italian) foreign ministry was working on after the (media) spotlight was turned off.

"The fact that Mrs Shalabayeva has regained her freedom of movement closes a circle that opened with the repeal of the expulsion order on July 12". The chief of staff at the interior ministry resigned over the expulsion after it emerged that the Kazakh ambassador in Rome pressured security officials to make the raid, having ignored the normal channels via the foreign ministry.

Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Angelino Alfano survived a confidence vote in parliament over the case after he vowed that neither he, nor any other minister, knew about the expulsion until after it happened.

Earlier this month Rome prosecutors opened a probe after investigative TV program Report broadcast an anonymous interview with an alleged manager of Eni, which has extensive investments in resource-rich Kazakhstan.

In the interview, the source said Eni was pressured to act in the eventual arrest and deportation of Ablyazov's family after Kazakh officials learned of their whereabouts in Rome this spring.

The case caused diplomatic tension between Rome and Astana, with Bonino condemning the measures taken by the Kazakh ambassador as ''intrusive'' and ''unacceptable''.

At one point the Kazak government threatened to retaliate after there was talk that the country's ambassador to Rome could be expelled.

"Now that the case is closed, we have to refasten relations between Italy and Kazakhstan after a period of prolonged coolness," added Bonino. Ablyazov, a former energy minister, was arrested in France on July 31 at his sister's house near Cannes. He has been in detention in the French city of Aix-en-Provence since, pending extradition requests from Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine.

Ablyazov fled to the UK in 2011, where he obtained political asylum, but was labeled a fugitive after he failed to attend hearings in an embezzlement case against him involving the BTA Bank he once ran.

He was reportedly fined 400 million dollars in damages.

Ablyazov has denied all charges against him, which he claims are aimed at removing him as a political rival to authoritarian Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.