Former Kazakh Mayor Ducks U.S. Litigation

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge dismissed a $300 million lawsuit against the ex-mayor of Kazakhstan’s largest city, ruling that the claims should be litigated in Switzerland.
     The City of Almaty filed a racketeering lawsuit in Los Angeles Federal Court against Viktor Khrapunov last year, alleging the politician stole hundreds of millions of dollars in assets from the city during his seven-year reign as mayor, from 1997 to 2004. Almaty is the largest city in the Republic of Kazakhstan.
     After getting $300 million from more than 80 real estate properties through fraud, Khrapunov and his relatives transferred millions of dollars from the Switzerland to the U.S., the city claims.
     Khrapunov and his family used the looted funds to buy four California homes and four luxury vehicles, the lawsuit states. They also used the money to fund companies, including a $6 million investment in a medical device company and a $67.5 million investment in a New York luxury hotel, in addition to $4.3 million in transfers to U.S. bank accounts, according to court records.
     After the lawsuit was filed, Khrapunov, who has also served as a minister in the Kazakhstan cabinet, argued that the city could not litigate its claims in a U.S. court.
     U.S. District Judge Fernando Olguin agreed in an unpublished opinion filed Sept. 21, finding that the “balance of private and public factors weigh in favor of dismissal.”
     “Switzerland is not just an adequate forum, but a more appropriate and convenient one, given the particular facts and circumstances of this case, and the private and public interest factors strongly favor litigating this case there,” Olguin wrote. “While the court is sympathetic to plaintiff’s contention that litigating certain aspects of its case may be more convenient in this district, that relatively minor convenience does not outweigh the alleged activities’ fundamentally foreign nature and the fact that the evidence and witnesses required to prove those allegations are located primarily in Kazakhstan and Switzerland.”
     As a foreign city, less deference was afforded to Almaty to choose where to litigate the case, Olguin said.
     Khrapunov fled to Switzerland in a private jet after Kazakh authorities opened an investigation in 2007, court records show. A probe by authorities in Geneva is ongoing, according to the 12-page ruling.
     Khrapunov’s attorney Anthony Alden said he could not immediately comment without his client’s permission. Khrapunov did not immediately respond to a request for comment emailed via his website.

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