Rome

Official quits over controversial Kazakh deportation

Amnesty International weighs in on 'illegal' action

Official quits over controversial Kazakh deportation

(By Christopher Livesay) Rome, July 16 - Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano's chief of staff at the interior ministry, Giuseppe Procaccini, resigned Tuesday over the controversial deportation from Italy of the daughter and wife of Kazakh dissident Mukhtar Ablyazov. Procaccini was reportedly contacted by Kazakhstan's ambassador to Rome in relation to the expulsion before it took place. Alfano, who is also the secretary of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party, told parliament neither he nor any cabinet member knew anything about the case until after the pair were deported. Procaccini's resignation came after an internal report on the affair was submitted by the chief of police. Premier Enrico Letta ordered the review after an outcry surrounding the handling of Ablyazov's wife, Alma Shalabayeva, and six-year-old girl, who were seized in a nighttime raid and put on a private jet with Kazakh diplomats at the end of May. According to Shalabayeva, roughly 50 plain-clothes agents mistreated and verbally abused her and her six-year-old during the operation before turning the two over to the government of Kazakhstan, which has been criticized for human rights abuses. Alfano told parliament that the Italian police "never had any information saying Ablyazov was a political refugee and not a dangerous fugitive". He also said that his wife never applied for political asylum in Italy, and her lawyers did so only after measures to deport her had already been taken. "Shalabayeva never even showed a residence permit," he added. Her original charge for deportation was for residing in Italy illegally. Amnesty International on Tuesday weighed in on the brewing scandal, calling it an "illegal" deportation. "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 AsiaProgramme. "This inquiry must be - and be perceived to be - truly independent. "It is of great concern that the ministry of the interior is essentially investigating itself: It is responsible for all immigration-related matters, including expulsions and deportations. "The investigation into Shalabayeva's forced return cannot be seen as an inside job". Alfano, who is also the secretary of the center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, has been particularly called out in the case given his ministry's role as head of the police force. Critics have pointed out that during his stints as premier Berlusconi helped foster lucrative commercial ties between Italy and resource-rich Kazakhstan. According to Italian media, Berlusconi, who is currently a Senator and still one of the country's most influential players, met with Nursultan Nazarbaev, the president of Kazakhstan, in Sardinia on July 6, suggesting close ties between the two. Berlusconi has denied meeting Nazarbaev while he was there. After the deportation case was brought to light, Italy overturned the expulsion order. "The repeal of Alma Shalabayeva's expulsion order is one small step in a case that requires transparency and accountability up to the highest levels of law enforcement and government," said Dalhuisen. "It is a travesty that a woman and her young daughter were whisked out of Italy on a private plane without due process and sent to a country where they would be at risk of persecution". Ablyazov, who is wanted in Kazakhstan and Russia and has been in and out of hiding, is an outspoken critic of the president. Kazakhstan insists Ablyazov, a wealthy banker, is not a dissident but an outlaw and a fugitive, wanted for a multibillion-euro embezzlement case at his BTA Bank.

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