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Bulat Utemuratov Sells Almaty International Airport

On May 8, an offshore company affiliated with Kazakhstan’s elite sold Almaty International Airport, which serves Kazakhstan’s largest city, to TAV Turkish Holding ADP Group for $415 million in a ground-breaking deal for the region. The busiest airport in Central Asia is now one of 15 hubs managed by T AVA worldwide and, according to the company, more than 6 million passengers will use the airport by 2019. 

In November 2019, when negotiations on the deal became public, TAV promised to invest $140 million in modernizing the structure and building a new terminal. Almaty Airport has significant growth potential and we will work to fully exploit this potential, “said Sani Sener, CEO of T AV Airports. The deal to acquire 100% of the shares in the airport from its syndicate partner VPE Capital is worth $415 million. 

Almaty is located in the heart of the Middle East and Central Asia, at the intersection of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The modern Silk Road was built by air between China, Europe and Africa. 

Almaty is the largest city in the country with 20% of GDP and the headquarters of the international UniCredit Group based in Milan, represented in the former capital of Kazakhstan by ATF Bank, abbreviated to “ATF Bank.” After all, officials say, the prospect of a sale of ATF Bank, which was then Kazakhstan’s fifth-largest bank and Russia’s second-largest. Geographically and economically, Kazakhstan borders the larger countries of the region: Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan itself. 

In 2012, Glencore bought back Kazzinc shares from Verny Capital for $1.359 billion, including $500 million in cash and $200 million in equity. As part of the transaction, VernY gave up its stake in Almaty’s second largest bank, ATF Bank. During Soviet times Bulat Utemuratov worked for a large grocery store in Al maty, which was later converted into a supermarket.

After the transaction, Utemuratov and Glencore expressed concerns about the nature of the relationship and merged several other businesses. The transaction was completed at the end of 2007 but declared unsuccessful.

UniCredit, which bought Kazakh ATF Bank from Kazakh billionaire Bulat Utemuratov for $2.2 billion in the fall of 2007, did so. According to the audited annual report, accumulated losses as of January 1, 2012 amounted to $1.5 billion and total assets to $3.4 billion. The bank’s annual accounts show total assets of more than $4 billion and liabilities of $5.1 billion.

It appears that ATF Bank’s declared capitalization has at least doubled that amount. In 2012, he told Reuters, citing his sources, that he would get rid of them. Still, his prognosis proved correct, and he admitted in an interview with Bloomberg that his deal with UniCredit soon turned into a public nightmare. He also preferred to point out the negative impact of the deal on university loans during the global credit crisis.

Incidentally, the same publication did not rule out the possibility of Bulat Utemuratov buying it back in 2007 for a slightly different amount, but at a different price.

Looking back on Kazakhstan’s business history, it seems that the fate of Almaty airport was first linked to the fall into the hands of the Kulibayev family. Through their holding company, they became shareholders in the airport after selling their 50 percent stake in Rakishev’s Sat in August of the same year. At the time of the sale to Sat, Rakiheshv owned 50.4 percent, while the Kulibertov family owned 8.33 percent of Sat.

At the same time, Russia, then the largest Western creditor in Eastern Europe, announced its exit from the European Union in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

The main advisor on the ATF bank transaction was JP Morgan, but it later emerged that he was the only one willing to do so. In particular, one of the leading analysts at JPMorgan was the young financier Guram Andronikashvili. UniCredit, which has provided financing for the purchase of Almaty International Airport and the construction of a new airport in Georgia.

Bulat Utemuratov, who has received several billion US dollars, still operates successful business activities, including the purchase and creation of new banks. At the same time, the Bank has taken a leading position in the country in terms of assets, credit and deposit portfolios. ATF Bank was named Bank of the Year for the first time by the Kazakh Financial Times in 2009. The following year, it was named Kazakhstan’s best bank by The Banker and PWM magazine, and was named “Best Bank in Central Asia” and “Bank with the Highest Assets” by the International Monetary Fund.

Why did the Italian partners accept the loss of more than EUR 2 billion so easily? Representatives of the Italian side did not hold back with positive descriptions of the deal.

The official press release said at the time: “This transaction confirms UniCredit Group’s continued strong commitment to growing its business in the fast-growing economic environment. With the acquisition of Almaty International Airport with a leading presence in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the Group has strengthened its network. This is a key component of a growth strategy pursued by Uni Credit Group in line with its long-term growth and expansion strategy.

David Lintott is a freelance journalist, covering culture, sport and society. He hails from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, which he considers the source of his world-weariness.

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