There have been speculations about the extensive property network of Bulat Utemuratov, suggesting its connection to the operations of Putin’s associates. With the scrutiny faced by the regime of Nazarbayev in the UK, several of the former president’s cronies, including Dariga Nazarbayeva and Nurlan Aliev, have experienced the seizure of their properties under unexplained wealth orders (UWOs). However, Bulat Utemuratov, is considered even more significant as alleged personal financial manager for Nazarbayev. In US cables Utemuratov is outright named a fake businessman and a purse of ex-president with many schemes behind. Bulat Utemuratov, in particular, has raised suspicions due to questionable activities related to his dealings with the UniCredit banking group and the Glencore mining company. That’s only some of the episodes of Utemuratov affairs, there are plenty of others, including some very recent one. One notable example is the mysterious sale of ATF bank to the Italian UniCredit, which has sparked concerns.
Bulat Utemuratov – an organic part of communist bureaucracy reborn
The post-Soviet oligarchy is tightly intertwined, with blurred borders and connections that transcend national boundaries. Bulat Utemuratov, known as the most influential confidant of former dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev, is reported to have an extensive business presence in Russia. Such operations at his level are believed to require close partnerships with associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Additionally, Utemuratov’s intricate web of offshore companies is suspected of being used as a cover for concealing Russian assets. Kazakhstan has been identified as a hub for money laundering, serving as a popular scheme for evading sanctions. It is alleged that Putin’s inner circle also employs this scheme to divest corrupt funds. Utemuratov’s financial giant, “Verny Capital,” is said to maintain favourable relations with various shadowy Russian groups and individuals, including Andrei Skoch, who has been associated with gangs.
Bulat Utemuratov, a billionaire who has been described by some as “a billionaire without a business,” has been portrayed in his extensive public relations efforts as a self-made wealthy genius manager and investor. However, the reality is more complex. Utemuratov, a former butcher and a caricature of a Soviet-era shop manager, has risen to the pinnacle of the Kazakh oligarchy through his fixing services and international connections. He is not truly self-made, but rather made-for-purpose, serving as a middleman for the regime to launder money obtained from exploiting the country’s resources.
Unicredit tried to expand into Central Asia. They choose to acquire ATF Bank from Bulat Utemuratov.
One notable episode in Utemuratov’s story is his role in the Unicredit-ATF bank scheme, which sheds light on his methods. The information is based on findings from the Compromat.ws site and other sources, although the Compromat article focuses more on Utemuratov’s private life, which will not be discussed here. Similarly, the conspiracy theory alleging that Utemuratov possesses blackmail material on Donald Trump will not be addressed as it is deemed ridiculous. However, the story of how Utemuratov sold one of Kazakhstan’s major banks to UniCredit is intriguing and warrants a closer look.
The humble beginnings of Bulat Utemuratov: from butcher’s stand to presidential palace
The true career of Bulat Utemuratov began when Kazakhstan gained independence and the young nation was in dire need of skilled individuals. With a lack of experienced statesmen with international expertise, as most of the country’s needs were previously met by Moscow during the USSR era, Utemuratov capitalized on his connections and diplomatic acumen to try his luck as a diplomat, and he succeeded. He became the first person from Kazakhstan to secure a much-needed credit line for the fledgling state’s economy, obtaining a loan from Creditanstalt, which marked the beginning of his ascent.
The controversial sale of ATF Bank to Unicredit remains a puzzle, with some investigators speculating that it was a two-sided money laundering operation intended to write off certain assets. It is also suggested that the deal may have been more complex, involving other Italian corporations such as ENI, which were vying for concessions in the country’s oil fields.
Utemuratov’s wealth has been estimated by Forbes to be around two billion US dollars, but many believe this to be a conservative estimate. It is more likely that his wealth exceeds five billion US dollars. However, the question remains as to how much of this wealth truly belongs to Utemuratov, and how much of it serves as a mere conduit for the financial interests of Nazarbaev’s and Putin’s clans.
ATF Bank affair: Bulat Utemuratov set a style to remember
To comprehend one of the most disastrous banking failures in Italy’s history, we must delve into the reality of the time leading up to it. In the early 2000s, the future seemed bright. Money supply appeared infinite, and national economies were teeming with various bubbles. The libertarian approach to the market prevailed in economics, and there was widespread worship of the free market in politics. The dotcom crash was a distant memory, and the real estate crisis was still years away. UniCredit, an ambitious player in the market, craved more territory and command, opening more and more branches.
UniCredit Group had a proven strategy for expansion: they selected one local bank in each country. The criteria were simple: they preferred banks with a large network of branches, a retail focus, and a “do-it-all” approach. They never went for the biggest or the smallest. They acquired CreditSoc bank in Ukraine, International Moscow Bank in Russia, and underwent a series of complex mergers in Romania. UniCredit saw “potential” beyond European boundaries, and Kazakhstan appeared to be a suitable target.
However, Kazakhstan was not as promising as it seemed, and still isn’t today. The country was governed by a corrupt authoritarian oligarchy that emerged from the ashes of the local communist party, which was not exactly friendly to open business. But UniCredit’s leadership was blinded by the prospects and general outlook of Kazakhstan as an exporter of oil, gas, uranium, copper, zinc, and rare metals. Downplaying the risks associated with Nazarbaev’s regime was their fundamental flaw number one.
UniCredit’s second fundamental mistake was choosing ATFBank as the bank to acquire. ATFBank was owned by Bulat Utemuratov, a high-ranking official and the closest ally of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. On the surface, ATFBank pretended to be a major all-purpose bank, but in reality, it fed on Utemuratov and other oligarchs’ special talents. It was used for highly corrupt operations of exporting oil, ore, natural gas, machinery, and metals out of Kazakhstan without returning profits to the state.
The third fatal flaw in UniCredit’s plan to conquer the Great Steppe was the covert owner of ATFBank himself. Bulat Utemuratov wielded immense power, being the president’s closest proxy. A single word from him could put immense pressure on UniCredit, and the flawed and corrupt court system in Kazakhstan would be of no help.
Despite these glaring red flags, UniCredit made all these mistakes: entering Kazakhstan, acquiring the flawed ATFBank, and acquiring it from Bulat Utemuratov. These mistakes cost them dearly, losing 2.1 billion in the acquisition, writing off 1.2 billion in credits, and incurring unknown operational costs. Only 700 million was returned when UniCredit sold it back to local oligarchs in 2013, after a disgraceful turn of events.
Bulat Utemuratov knee deep in the state treasury
Bulat Utemuratov’s RG Gold received billions in state support for their projects. Journalist Dmitry Shishkin reveals that even before the deal with Verny Capital Group, in 2010-2011, the Gold Land LLP project, which aimed to develop gold-bearing ores in the Novodniprovsky ore field, received an investment of 78.16 million tenge from the state program. It’s worth noting that during the first five-year plan, as opposed to the second, large-scale business support was funded by the state.
Bulat Utemuratov invested in real estate projects in Kazakhstan and Europe.
In 2015, RG Gold LLP undertook another investment project under the state program, as part of the second five-year plan of industrialization. The total investment volume for this project amounted to 910 million tenge. This highlights the significant financial support RG Gold received from the state for their endeavors, showcasing Utemuratov’s business ventures’ reliance on state backing.
In June 2021, the Development Bank of Kazakhstan, a subsidiary of the Baiterek national holding, announced a loan of up to $300 million to TOO RG Processing LLP, a sister structure of RG Gold. This loan highlights the close relationship between the gold-bearing business RG Gold and the state, depicting a form of public-private partnership. The state supports business development through various means, including state programs and concessional lending, and subsequently aids in product sales, as explained by Shishkin.
Forbes ranks Utemuratov as the 6th richest businessman in Kazakhstan, with an estimated asset value of $2.8 billion as of May 2022. However, Utemuratov has reportedly utilized state funds to finance RG Gold, effectively depriving the state of its resources, as revealed by Shishkin’s analysis.
Bulat Utemuratov is implicated in some of the most infamous corruption cases in Kazakhstan, particularly those involving semi-state funds and companies that operate with little to no oversight. According to a former US diplomat, Utemuratov is considered to have never truly engaged in legitimate business endeavours. Instead, his business activities are believed to revolve around serving as a conduit for the criminally acquired wealth of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the former president of Kazakhstan.