Italy storm over expulsion of Kazakh dissident's family

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano in parliament, 16 Jul 13 Image copyright AP
Image caption Italy's interior minister - an ally of Silvio Berlusconi - is under fire

A top civil servant has resigned in Italy amid a political storm over the deportation of a Kazakh dissident's wife and six-year-old daughter.

The interior minister's chief-of-staff, Giuseppe Procaccini, resigned as the incident threatened the stability of Italy's ruling coalition.

Media reports had accused him of meeting Kazakh officials before the deportation took place.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano faces a Senate no-confidence vote on Friday.

The whereabouts of dissident oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov are unknown.

But in May, his wife Alma Shalabayeva and their child were arrested in a night-time police raid on their villa in suburban Rome. They were then put on a private plane with Kazakh diplomats and flown to Kazakhstan.

The Kazakh ambassador has been summoned to the Italian foreign ministry for an explanation.

Bank funds 'missing'

Human rights campaigners have accused Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev of silencing independent media and persecuting political opponents, as well as using the police and courts to keep a tight grip on power.

Mr Ablyazov, a former energy minister and chairman of BTA bank, fled the country in 2009. He was granted political asylum in the UK but his current location is not known.

BTA filed a lawsuit against him, accusing him of siphoning off billions of US dollars from the bank. He denies wrongdoing, calling the case politically motivated.

Interior Minister Alfano, who is in Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party, told parliament on Tuesday that he had not been told about the police operation targeting Mr Ablyazov's family.

"I was not informed and nor was any colleague in the government or the prime minister informed," he said, adding that he had ordered a review of the department that handles deportations, "so this can never happen again".

Opposition politicians are demanding his resignation over the affair. "This is not a credible story. It's something from a Grade Z movie," said Michele Giarrusso, a senator from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

Mr Alfano, quoted by the Associated Press news agency, said Kazakh diplomats had urged police to search for Mr Ablyazov in Rome and had then demanded that the fugitive's wife and child be deported.

Was it collusion?

Ms Shalabayeva is reported to be at her parents' home in the Kazakh capital Almaty with her daughter. She cannot leave the city and is accused of having obtained false passports for family members, Reuters news agency reports.

Mr Ablyazov says it was a Kazakh state-organised "kidnapping" and he fears for his family's safety.

The operation was condemned by Amnesty International.

"The Italian authorities must ensure that there is a full investigation and criminal prosecution for any violation of their human rights. Only then can any allegations of collusion between the Italian and Kazakhstani authorities be put to rest," said John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty's Europe and Central Asia Programme.

The Italian government has retroactively revoked the expulsion order for Ms Shalabayeva and her daughter.

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