KAZAKHSTAN : All but invisible, Utemuratov the center of attention in Astana

With a turf war rag­ing in Astana as pres­i­dent Nursultan Nazarbayev’s health declines, Kazakh oli­garch Bulat Utemuratov reluc­tant­ly finds him­self very much in the spotlight.

Internal warfare

Although he’s very secre­tive, oli­garch Bulat Utemuratov has been pro­pelled into the cen­ter of palace intrigue in Kazakhstan. The object of an increas­ing num­ber of arti­cles on fake Internet news sites, Utemuratov, a con­fi­dent of ail­ing pres­i­dent Nursultan Nazarbayev who has ruled Kazakhstan since Soviet times, has become a punch­ing ball for at least two camps vying for Nazarbayev’s favor. Despite his fail­ing health the lat­ter has­n’t cho­sen a successor.

Patokh Chodiev, a Uzbekistan-born oligarch

Now entan­gled in any num­ber of anti-cor­rup­tion inves­ti­ga­tions, Patokh Chodiev, a Uzbekistan-born oli­garch who is an ardent cus­tomer of Western cor­po­rate intel­li­gence firms (IOL 792), has been Utemuratov’s neme­sis for 20 years, work­ing unceas­ing­ly to trip him up.

Dariga Nursultanqyzy Nazarbayeva, Member of the Parliament of Kazakhstan and Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan

In addi­tion, Utemuratov has to con­tend with the ani­mos­i­ty of Nazarbayev’s daugh­ter, Dariga Nazarbayeva. Now head of the for­eign affairs, defence and secu­ri­ty com­mit­tee in Parliament in Astana, Dariga, a for­mer chief of the nation­al press agency, also spe­cial­izes in pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tions and on-line pro­pa­gan­da (IOL 570). She even used her Facebook page recent­ly to pub­licly crit­i­cize her son Aisultan whose nick­name is “Nazarbayev’s trustee” in ref­er­ence to his grand­fa­ther. All that augurs rather bad­ly for the atmos­phere at end-of-year fes­tiv­i­ties in Astana.

Investigations Piling Up

But what inter­ests inves­ti­ga­tors the most about Utemuratov are his busi­ness deal­ings. An inquiry launched in the Netherlands in 2008 but still under­way, remains of extreme inter­est to Dutch sleuths. It involves the trans­fer of funds to Kazakh off­shore com­pa­nies from the sale of Kazakh zinc to the Swiss trad­ing group Glencore (IOL 785). Glencore went on in 2011 to buy part of Utemuratov’s shares in the for­mer state-owned zinc com­pa­ny, KazZinc. Two years lat­er the mogul sold off his remain­ing 29% to the coun­try’s sov­er­eign fund, Samruk-Kozyna.


A fortune accumulated far from prying eyes

A for­mer lead­ing gov­ern­ment secu­ri­ty and diplo­mat­ic offi­cial, Bulat Utemuratov chaired Kazakhstan’s Security Council between 2003–2008. The pan­el over­saw the coun­try’s intel­li­gence agen­cies, with the KNG in the fore­front. He then went on to head Nursultan Nazarbayev’s pres­i­den­tial admin­is­tra­tion between 2006 and 2008. Since then, how­ev­er, Utemuratov has devot­ed him­self entire­ly to his busi­ness affairs. Having acquired shares in for­mer state- owned com­pa­nies in the late 1990s and ear­ly 2000s, he owes his rep­u­ta­tion as Kazakhstan’s rich­est man to the sale of his inter­ests in KazZinc to Glencore (see oppo­site) as well as the sale of ATF Bank to BankAustria, a sub­sidiary of Italy’s UniCredit in 2007. He now pre­sides over an empire based pri­mar­i­ly on the Verny Capital hold­ing group. It owns sev­er­al major assets, such as the Ritz Carlton hotels in Moscow and Vienna. In Kazakhistan Utemuratov also con­trols lux­u­ry Roxos Borovoye hotel on the banks of Lake Suchie that’s a favorite haunt of the coun­try’s elite. Utemuratov equal­ly con­trols sev­er­al finan­cial estab­lish­ments in the coun­try, includ­ing the Forte Bank and Kassa Nova Bank. A part­ner in the region of Russian tele­coms giant Veon (for­mer­ly Vimpelcom) through Limnotex Developments, he con­trols the Kazakh oper­a­tor Kar-Tel. But he’s also high­ly active in neigh­bor­ing Kyrgyzstan, where he acts as Nazarbayev’s spe­cial envoy and- along­side Veon — con­trols the local oper­a­tor Sky Mobil. He’s equal­ly a ben­e­fi­cia­ry of the Cypriot trust fund Crowwell Investments. And in the Swiss can­ton of Zug he has close ties with Menacrest, VIP Kazakhstan Holding and VIP Kyrgyzstan Holding.

KAZAKHSTAN : All but invis­i­ble, Utemuratov the cen­ter of atten­tion in Astana

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