'Trojan horse' raid ends 18-month hunt for Kazakh banker Mukhtar Ablyazov

Fresh details emerge of how financier accused of one of the world's biggest frauds was tracked down

The armed police looking on from their camouflaged surveillance posts in the woods were convinced the gardener's van which emerged from behind the gates of the secluded villa was their cornered target's final attempt to escape. As the van left, officers radioed colleagues some distance away and ordered a armed "hard stop" in an effort to stop him. Yet when the van was stopped by armed officers moments later, they discovered the van was empty and the gardeners were genuine. Undeterred, the police quickly capitalised on the mix-up. The gardeners were persuaded to change clothes with police and readily provided the access code for the formidable security gates. So it was that a humble workman's van, acting as an improvised Trojan horse, ferried a heavily armed French tactical firearms team past the security cameras and into the heart of the fugitive banker Mukhtar Ablyazov's secret bolthole in the south of France.

The officers who entered the main building quickly found the Kazakh businessman, accused of one of the world's biggest frauds, seated at his computer, unaware of his imminent arrest. Ablyazov, arrested on an Interpol warrant, is now facing extradition from France to Ukraine, where he is wanted for questioning about allegations of banking fraud.

The dramatic final moments of Ablyazov's arrest emerged yesterday in France as full details of the 18-month hunt for him after he fled Britain last year were revealed.

Ablyazov was hunted by British private detectives when he fled the country after the High Court sentenced him to prison for contempt of court. The banker has been accused of embezzling $6bn (£3.9bn) from Kazakhstan's BTA Bank. The bank fought to get the money returned through a series of civil court battles, opposed at every stage by the businessman, who claimed he was the victim of political persecution as a result of his opposition to Kazakhstan's autocratic President, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The banker, whose country's elite has grown wealthy on the proceeds of vast oil and gas reserves, insists he is the target of a political conspiracy after he left his post as energy minister and became a prominent opponent of Mr Nazarbayev. Ablyazov funded a pro-reform party in 2001, earning himself a six-year prison term for abuse of public office. After he was pardoned by Mr Nazarbayev in 2003, he presided over rapid growth at BTA, allegedly plundering its assets until he fled to London 2009 and successfully applied for asylum in 2011. Kazakh prosecutors have described him as the head of an extremist, criminal conspiracy bent on "seizing power by inciting civil strife and hatred".

In May, Ablyazov's wife and six-year-old child were controversially detained and then taken from Rome to Kazakhstan, sparking a domestic political crisis in Italy. The Italian government says it was not properly informed about the expulsion and has asked the head of police to explain what occurred. Ablyazov's family says that the wife, Shalabayeva, and the couple's six-year-old daughter, Alua, are "in danger" in Kazakhstan.

The British private detectives tracked down the missing banker after following a Ukrainian lawyer, Olena Tyshchenko, from the High Court in London, where she sought an adjournment of legal proceedings to seize Ablyazov's assets. Ms Tyshchenko, who lives with her children in the luxurious private St George's Hill estate in Surrey, was then trailed to the south of France, where she was spotted meeting Ablyazov in a waterfront villa in Miramar.

According to legal sources, the British detectives were unaware of Ablyazov's presence until he was spotted in his boxer shorts placing flowers in a vase and rearranging the bed before closing the curtains. The properties were kept under observation, and the financier's personal staff later led investigators to another, more secluded property north of Cannes in the village of Mouans-Sartoux. The villa, where French police eventually arrested him last week, is close to where Ms Tyshchenko also owns property. While Ablyazov was kept under surveillance, Ms Tyshchenko was followed to Moscow, where she secured a divorce from her husband Sergei, a Ukrainian banker. Ms Tsychenko then returned to the south of France, where she socialised with Ablyazov.

Ablyazov, who appeared in court in Aix-en-Provence, is expected to apply for release from detention this week. In April, Ablyazov's former bodyguard, Aleksandr Pavlov, was detained in Madrid, Spain, accused of bank fraud and terrorism charges, which he denies.

Legal sources said the Ablyazov investigation had been led by the British corporate intelligence firm Diligence. When approached, a company spokeswoman said it had a policy of not confirming or denying its involvement with projects or the identity of clients.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific