A Kazakh billionaire is suspected of being on the run after failing to turn up at the high court for sentencing after committing one of the world's biggest frauds.
An arrest warrant has gone out for Mukhtar Ablyazov, former chairman of Kazak bank BTA, where he is alleged to have embezzled $5bn (£3.2bn). Ablyazov was found guilty of lying to the court about the true scale of his immense fortune.
Despite failing to turn up at his hearing, Ablyazov was sentenced to three concurrent 22-month jail terms for "brazen" and "serious" contempt of court after trying to hide more than £34m of assets from creditors.
Mr Justice Teare accused Ablyazov of "fraud on an epic scale" and of using the bank "as if it were his own private source of funds".
"The seriousness of Mr Ablyazov's conduct, in my judgment, requires immediate custody," Teare told the court, adding that an arrest warrant would be issued.
Ablyazov, 49, was granted asylum in the UK in 2009 after fleeing Kazakhstan when BTA collapsed with debts of $12bn.
It is now feared he may have fled the country despite his passport being seized by the court. It was noted in court that it would not be difficult for someone with Ablyazov's wealth to acquire a new one.
Stephen Smith QC, BTA's barrister, told the court that Ablyazov is now a "flight risk" and fears "he may be in the process of fleeing, if he has not already fled".
Duncan Matthews QC, for Ablyazov, denied that his client had left Britain.