A civil court in England froze $5 billion in assets in half a dozen countries as part of an ongoing international legal saga that has the richest businessmen in Kazakhstan defending themselves against allegations of the theft and money laundering of $6 billion from state-owned BTA Bank. Assets frozen include cash in bank accounts, stakes in luxury hotels, and a Burger King franchise. The assets were frozen by the Business and Property Courts of England and Wales at the request of BTA Bank. The bank has been alleging for years that its former chairman stole more than $6 billion and laundered that money through shell companies. The defendants maintain their innocence and claim BTA is on a witch hunt fueled by a political vendetta in the former Soviet state. BTA alleges that the stolen money is in bank accounts and assets across the globe, including a shopping mall in Cincinnati.
In 2012, a U.K. court ruled in BTA's favor and issued a $4.9 billion civil judgment again its former chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov and his son-in-law Iliyas Khrapunov. Ablyazov took control of BTA in 2004. The bank was taken over by the Kazakh government after it alleged he and his associated used a series of fraudulent loans to steal billions. Khrapunov is accused of laundering money for Ablyazov. Ablyazov and Khrapunov deny all allegations against them.
BTA alleges that financier, former adviser to the Kazakhstan government, and board member of the International Tennis Federation, Bulat Utemuratov worked with 11 other people to hide money stolen from the bank. Utemuratov denied the allegations and said the claim was based on false documents given to the bank. The asset freezing order includes bank accounts at UBS, Credit Suisse, EFG International, and DBS Group Holdings as well as companies with stakes in the Ritz Carlton hotels in Moscow, Vienna, and Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. The Burger King franchise in Kazakhstan, owned by Utermuratov is also included. The focus on Utermuratov, who is a high-profile businessman in Kazakhstan, is the latest twist in the case. He has a net worth of $2.2 billion and has been an associate of former President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.