As Covid-19 slowly but surely takes grip on Kazakhstan as nation braces for the impact. All major companies and prominent businessmen donate to the common cause buying test kits and protective equipment. Bulat Utemuratov. listed as #2 in the local oligarchy is helping too. His wealth came from highly suspicious sale of ATF bank to UniCredit group in the early 2000s. Soon after UniCredit realized that the price for the local troubled ATF Bank was exaggerated and the assets were inflated. Bulat Utemuratov has steadily used the scheme of selling inflated assets to the Western corporations. There are a number of publications which suggest that it was a covert form of bribes paid to Nazarbaev regime.
It seems that Bulat Utemuratov inflates not only assets he sells but the aid that he donates to the Kazakhstan.
Nursultan Nazarbaev, the long-time president and the lifetime national leader of Kazakhstan called the richest people to donate part of their wealth to buy the necessary medical equipment and protective wear to combat COVID-19 outbreak. The nation retired to strict quarantine measures and is locked down, region by region. Bulat Utemuratov, who possesses No.764 place in Billionaires 2020 list and is No.2 in his own country with at least 2.7B also made his modest input to the case.
And ‘modest’ is not a figure of speech. He allocated, through his Verny Capital investment company one million dollars to purchase up to 47.000 express test kits. Although one million seems to be a reasonable amount it is not truly the case. Terms make the difference: the sum is allocated, not donated. All in all Bulat Utemuratov pledged to pay for 500-1000 test kits on daily basis until they are needed. That makes his daily expenses to the whole case as little as $10638. It’s needless to say that the scale is irrelevant to the medical needs of the Central Asian republic.
To be honest, Bulat Utemuratov is not the only one who used precise wording to evade from the emergency donations while keeping a good presence in the national and international press. The same ‘allocation’ scheme is used by many others local tycoons. The funding fanfared as massive investment while in reality it is a teardrop in the sea.
Moreover, could Bulat Utemuratov and others pay the taxes right without schemes to bring the wealth abroad and invest in lavish lifestyle and luxurious estate, the need for presidential appeal for funds would be unnecessary. Bulat Utemuratov, which was viewed as the personal financial manager of the ruling Nazarbaev’s family, knows it too well. His input in getting domestic money abroad through elaborate and inventive schemes is priceless. One million in pledge is a miserable compensation for it. Bulat Utemuratov made a fortune by selling his proximity to the ruling regime while making highly suspicious deals with UniCredit and Glencore.
In 1995 Bulat Utemuratov has established his own bank – “Almaty Trade and Finance Bank” better known by its “ATF” acronym. The bank has rapidly grown in one of the most important for the Kazakhstan business community. It was sold to UniCredit bank for $2.117 billion in cash paid in full.
It’s there where things are starting to be entertaining. Soon after the bank was bought by Italians they found that loans the ATF gave to his customers are non-performing. Those with large deposits had fled the bank. Major national corporations left the ATF for other banks. They writ 500 millions USD off then they writ off 700 more. UniCredit was happy to sell the bank at a quarter of the initial price. Thank God the son-in-law of the Almaty mayor, Galymzhan Esenov, needed one.
The common debriefing narrative is that Utemuratov has tricked unsuspecting Italians to buy the cheesy venture. “The investors lost their faith in Kazakhstan” and all that stuff that is usually said on such occasions. But wait, there is more under the surface.
Thirteen years after controversial ATF/UniCredit affair Bulat Utemuratov is still busy proving that nothing was wrong with the deal. The fact that it still bothers Kazakhstan’s #3 most influential businessman is hinting for the opposite though.
UniCredit acquisition of ATF Bank went terribly wrong. UniCredit lost billions supporting the ailing bank while trying to keep it afloat. Italians writ off £1 billion in non-performing loans. Few years later the bank was sold for a fraction of initial price to the local Kazakhstan businessman Galymzhan Esenov. And suddenly the bank has got all his glory back in no time.
Were the Austrian-Italian grossly incompetent to buy the dummy bank for nearly £2 billions? Were they so blatantly incapable to manage the bank? Were the local corruption to blame? Or the 2007 Great Recession was a leading factor for the ATF demise under the Italian rule?
There are some sound arguments for more inspiring assumptions. Judging from the overall reputation of Italian bank and its involvement in a series of financial affairs it is quite possible to presume that the entire affair was premeditated by Bulat Utemuratov and his partners. They knew it all. As a result of the deal circa £2 billions of fresh money were legally transferred to Europe and the Kazakhstani regime has its financial security greatly improved.
But thirteen years after the deal was closed in cash Bulat Utemuratov is still insisting that the demise of the bank was tied to financial crisis. And invests quite a labour in promoting this view in the local as well as international press.
Understanding the importance of keeping appearances up he bought several news outlets. Local press is flooding in his PR stunts. Informbyuro, one of the media under his command, posted 200+ PR articles alone. To be fair one half of them is dedicated to the charity he runs, but the other is advocating his business practices and pushes his vision, among others, on the ATF/UniCredit deal. His team is also cooperating with other media. Bulat Utemuratov runs an advertisement block on Forbes.kz right next to the ‘Top-50 rating‘.
One of the reasons for disbelief in the ‘2007 crisis theory’ as a main cause for the Italian catastrophe is that the general scheme was used by him afterwards. Soon after the ATF he seemingly conspired with Glencore to manipulate the mining assets. It resulted in anomalous activity of the latter by which shareholders of the Swiss-base mining corporation loose decent amount of money while supporting the Kazakhstan’s oligarchy.