Hogan Lovells is due to return to court in the coming days to apply for a debarring order to prevent Kazakh billionaire Mukhtar Ablyazov from defending claims totalling $5bn that are being brought against him by JSC BTA Bank.
The mammoth claim is due to be heard in October, but Ablyazov is believed to have fled the country after the Mr Justice Teare found him guilty of contempt of court and issued a warrant for his arrest (16 February 2012).
Whether the trial will now go ahead is in doubt after New Square Chambers’ Steven Smith QC, instructed for Hogan Lovells partner Chris Hardman for BTA, requested that Ablyazov is debarred if he fails to turn himself in by 4pm on Friday (2 March). In addition, he argued, the defendant should be debarred if he does not disclose all his assets by 4pm on 9 March.
For a High Court judge to debar a defendant in a claim of this size is rare and Ablyazov’s counsel, 20 Essex Street’s Duncan Matthews QC, argues that there is no precedent for it.
The case was part heard last Friday and is expected to reconvene on Wednesday or Thursday.
According to court papers seen by The LawyerAddleshaw Goddard, instructed last September to replace Stephenson Harwood as Ablyazov’s London lawyers (19 September 2011) learned that its client would not attend court to hear the outcome of the committal hearing five minutes before it began.
The firm was ordered to disclose “all historic and current contact details, including, but without limitation, postal and email addresses and all telephone numbers and Skype account details which they hold for the first defendant [Ablyazov]” by 10am on Friday 17 February.
This came after Smith, appearing for BTA, told the court: “It’s beyond all doubt that there are contact details for Mr Ablyazov within the Addleshaw Goddard camp.
“Not only has Mr [Ian] Hargreaves been able to take instructions to put in evidence in the last 24 hours on the committal application, but, as we know from my learned friend [Matthews] this morning, he himself was speaking with Mr Ablyazov by telephone before he came to court.”
Addleshaws had attempted to argue against the order, requesting sufficient notice from Teare J to allow it to take independent advice.
Addressing the court Addleshaw Goddard partner Ian Hargreaves, instructed for Ablyazov, said: “I can’t personally consent to the order being sought today. I would have to check and I would have to seek proof from my managing partners. I can’t unilaterally make a decision here and now.”
Teare J ruled: “If the court is unable to make the order which is sought by the bank, that circumstance is liable to bring the administration of justice into disrepute in circumstances where the contemnor decides at his will and without notice not to attend court.”
However, it is understood that Addleshaws is in now in dispute with Hogan Lovells about the meaning of the court order. While some details have been disclosed, Ablyazov’s whereabouts is still unknown.
During the committal hearing Smith revealed that Hogan Lovells had amassed costs of £2.6m in bringing the specific claim against Ablyazov. It requested interim indemnified costs of £1.5m. The court granted half that sum - £750,000 - to be paid within 14 days.
Ablyazov has repeatedly denied allegations that he absconded from Kazakhstan having embezzled funds out of its JSC BTA Bank. He claims he is a victim of political persecution and was ousted from BTA because the Kazakh government wanted to nationalise the bank.