Billionaires and graces

Another bump in the long and winding road to $6bn BTA High Court showdown

High Court
High Court upheld LLP member claim

Next month, another $6bn dispute rolls into town – JSC BTA Bank v Mukhtar Ablyazov – but the tussle already has problems. Last week Ablyazov’s lawyers at Addleshaw Goddard and 20 Essex Street’s Duncan Matthew QC requested that Mr Justice Teare, who presided over the pre-trial hearings, recuse himself from the case.

In February Teare J jailed Ablyazov for 22 months for contempt of court. Ablyazov failed to attend the hearing, having fled the country. Hogan Lovells, for the bank, argues this shows Ablyazov’s deceit. Addleshaws, meanwhile, contends it shows he is a victim of persecution who feared for his life.

The root of the case lies at the heart of Kazakh politics.

Ablyazov was chair of the board of directors of Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank in 2009. It was not an easy tenure and, in 2002, he was convicted of “abusing official powers as a minister”.

This came a year after he began funding the country’s opposition, which had challenged President Nursultan Nazarbayev. He served 10 months of a six-year sentence before being pardoned.

He successfully applied for asylum in the UK in 2011 after being removed from the bank in 2009. BTA’s $6bn claim was launched not long after.

The full case is set to be heard on 6 November and is to last 10 weeks, but the appeal court has still to decide whether Addleshaws can overturn the committal order signed by Teare J. It is an essential ruling and one that will also decide whether Hogan Lovells’ attempt to debar Ablyazov from the case can stand.

And now, the recusal application from Addleshaws. Some may say the firm is playing for time – it also applied unsuccessfully to have the case delayed. Hogan Lovells, meanwhile, is hoping the trial will get under way with Teare J holding onto the judicial position as he has followed the fight from the outset.

Sources close to both sides say there is no telling whether the Court of Appeal will rule before the substantive hearing begins.

This means the future of the case turns on a decision awaited since May – hardly the kind of judicial management the senior courts are calling for.