Five years after nearly
collapsing under the
weight of bad debts, the once-hobbled Kazakh bank
BTA has a spring in its step.
third-largest lender, 97% owned by sovereign wealth fund
Samruk-Kazyna, posted first-half earnings of T15.6 billion
($112 million), compared with a T658 billion loss a year ago.
BTA chairman Kadyrzhan Damitov attributed the turnaround to a
second debt restructuring completed in December 2012, helping
boost first-half net interest income to T17 billion.
this year has switched to locating and recouping billions of
dollars that the bank alleges former chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov
stole. Ablazov was arrested in France on July 18 on a request
from Ukraine. He maintains the charges of fraud are false and
politically motivated, and that
BTA’s problems stem from its nationalization in
Speaking from southern France, where Ablyazov is being held in
prison, Peter Sahlas, a lawyer employed by the
banker’s family, tells Euromoney Ablyazov is still
in "fighting mood", and has filed for a new trial at the
European Court of Human Rights. Sahlas says Ablyazov fled
London in February 2012 – hours before being sentenced
to 22 months in a UK jail for contempt of court – as
he feared being killed on British soil by Chechen
|Former BTA chairman Mukhtar
Ablyazov, who bought BTA
in 1998, is wanted by the authorities in several countries,
Kazakhstan and Russia. Ukraine filed for his arrest on
August 1, although Sahlas is confident this request will be
In a series of rulings
between November 2012 and March 2013 from London’s
High Court, Justice Nigel Teare granted BTA more than $4
billion in assets also claimed by Ablyazov and his associates.
Pavel Prosyankin, a board member and managing director at BTA,
tells Euromoney he believes that total "will rise to $6
billion" over the next few months.
Ablyazov might have
channelled as much as $15 billion out of Kazakhstan in the
decade to early 2009, according to sources close to BTA. Some
of the assets already located might prove relatively easy to
package and sell: notably a £20 million ($31 million) London
mansion on a Hampstead road popularly known as
billionaire’s row’, and a £20
million Surrey estate with helipad once owned by computer
tycoon Michael Dell.
Other assets claimed by
BTA might take longer to locate, value and sell. Sources close
to BTA say they have identified mining assets in the Ukraine
and Kyrgyzstan, along with bank accounts scattered in Malta,
Cyprus and the Cayman and British Virgin islands.
"We are continuing our
search for other assets that Ablyazov may own, but which we
haven’t yet unearthed," says Prosyankin, who is
also overseeing the asset-recovery process. "Many of the assets
he stole are hidden in opaque ways, in far-flung places, and we
are working day and night with authorities across multiple
jurisdictions to unwind some very complex and tangled
In the UK alone, BTA
employs PwC as its forensic accountants, KPMG as receivers and
Hogan Lovells as part of its legal team. They appear to be
digging in for the long haul. One source believes that tracking
everything down could take up to 20 years.
It might take years
before BTA is able to recoup assets at a price considered
acceptable to potential buyers and the bank’s
chief shareholder. The last thing BTA wants to do, notes one
adviser, is to be "seen to be holding a fire sale. It wants to
sell these assets at the right price and at its own pace."
Perhaps another positive
factor for BTA, in addition to its mounting legal victories, is
the arrest of Ablyazov, and the arrest or disempowerment of
individuals the bank, or sources close to the bank, say might
have acted as Ablyazov’s associates. Some of
these, says Prosyankin, spent years "hiding the assets he
Sources close to BTA
point, for example, to Ablyazov’s brother-in-law,
Syrym Shalabayev, who is one of the figures the bank considers
to have acted in a similar role. In 2011 Shalabayev was
sentenced in his absence to 18 months’
imprisonment in the UK for contempt of court in a case related
to BTA’s case against Ablyazov.
Another connection to
Ablyazov is a 37-year-old Ukraine lawyer, Yelena Tischenko, who
attracted the attention of detectives, sources say, after
providing evidence on Ablyazov’s behalf in the
High Court in April; she was then followed to France,
inadvertently leading the authorities to the former BTA
owner’s Provence hideout.
Tischenko was arrested in a Moscow hotel on September 2
after flying in from Cyprus. She was whisked off to be quizzed
by Russian investigators, Kommersant newspaper said –
an act Sahlas likens to hostage-taking.