The criminal court of Perugia, Italy, has just delivered a long-awaited decision on Alma Shalabayeva’s case. On 14 October 2020, the Italian court sentenced to prison six Italian law-enforcement officers on ‘abduction’ charges and one justice of the peace for ‘forgery’.
In 2013, Alma Shalabayeva, wife of Kazakhstani opposition leader and political refugee Mukhtar Ablyazov, and her 6-year-old daughter Alua fell victim to a controversial abduction carried out by the Italian authorities in the framework of interstate cooperation in criminal matters with Kazakhstan. Alma and Alua were abducted by the Italian police on 29 May 2013, right after their house in Casal Palocco, in Rome, was raided.
According to the reconstructions of the events, the Italian authorities were initially targeting her husband, Mukhtar Ablyazov, who was the subject of a bilateral meeting between Giuseppe Procaccini, then Head of Cabinet of the Ministry of the Interior, and Andrin Yelemessov, the Kazakhstani Ambassador to Italy. However, in Ablyazov’s absence, a hasty bureaucratic procedure aimed at expelling his wife and daughter was carried out by top officials and low-level officers of Rome’s immigration office and the Capital’s flying squad. The expulsion also involved a justice of the peace.
On 31 May 2013, Alma and Alua were forcibly boarded on a private plane provided by the same Kazakhstani authorities on bogus charges of holding a fake passport. Fortunately, thanks to mounting international criticism and parliamentary mobilisation, Alma and Alua were returned back to Italy at the end of that year. Giuseppe Procaccini voluntarily resigned, while the then Minister of Interior, Angelino Alfano, was subjected to a no-confidence motion by the parliament, which was eventually rejected.
The court has not published yet the full explanation of the motivations of the verdict but announced that all the accused received higher sentences than those requested by the Prosecutor’s office. All the defendants – except for Stefania Lavore, the justice of the peace, who has been convicted to two years and 6 months in jail on forgery charges – were found guilty of ‘abduction’. The then heads of Rome’s Immigration office and the capital’s flying squad, Maurizio Improta and Renato Cortese respectively, were convicted to 5 years’ imprisonment and disqualification from holding any public office. Similarly, Francesco Stampacchia and Luca Armeni, the officers of Rome’s flying squad were sentenced to 5 years in prison. Instead, Stefano Leoni and Vincenzo Tramma, the officers of Rome’s Immigration office, were given three years and six months and four years respectively.
After the court verdict was released, Alma Shalabayeva commented: “In my country, it wouldn’t have ended up like this”. Her lawyer also added: “Justice was done but none of the defendants had a personal interest in this matter. It means that they obeyed orders and whoever gave them got away with it“.
We cannot agree more with such statements. As recently highlighted by the National Court of Asylum of France, Kazakhstan’s abusive modus operandi of international cooperation mechanisms, as well as its blatant interferences in different EU jurisdictions, confirm the repressive methods of Nazarbayev’s regime towards Ablyazov and its opponents. Still, Alma’s lawyer stressed that despite those who implemented the orders were punished, the extent of the involvement of key ministerial figures in the affair remains untackled.
Latest Italian media coverage:
- La Stampa “Condannati due super poliziotti per il sequestro di Shalabayeva” (15 October 2020)
- Corriere della Sera “Caso Shalabayeva, condannati i poliziotti: «Nel mio Paese sarebbe impossibile»” (15 October 2020)
- Il Fatto Quotidiano “Caso Shalabayeva, condannati tutti gli imputati: cinque anni all’attuale questore di Palermo Cortese e al capo della Polfer Improta” (15 October 2020)
- La Repubblica “Processo Shalabayeva, condannati tutti i 7 imputati” (14 October 2020)
Read also our reports and statements:
- They’ve Come For You: Misuse of Extradition Procedures and Interstate Legal Assistance (5 November 2019)
- “The unlawful deportation of Alma Shalabayeva was the result of a targeted special operation carried out by Kazakh and Italian security forces” (3 September 2013)
- “Kazakhstan: Alma Shalabayeva’s case may be deemed to be politically motivated” (30 June 2013)
- “The unlawful deportation of Mukhtar Ablyazov’s family from Italy bears features of a planned special operation in the fight against the main opponent of the regime” (3 June 2013)
- “On 29 May Alma was captured by Italians, on 30 May criminal proceedings were initiated against her, and on 31 May she and her child were trafficked from Italy to Kazakhstan” (2 June 2013)
- Amnesty Italia “Espulsione Shalabayeva: il commento alla sentenza del tribunale di Perugia” (15 October 2020)
- “UN experts urge Italy to facilitate return of illegally deported Kazakh mother, daughter” (18 July 2013)
- Human Rights Watch “Dispatches: Italy’s “Extraordinary Rendition” to Kazakhstan” (22 July 2013)