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Kazakh president threatens cabinet: Bring back offshore money or I’ll fire you

Nursultan Nazarbayev has told his ministers to repatriate $12 billion they have abroad – or else

(bne IntelliNews) – Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on December 6 threatened to sack his cabinet if they failed to get large state-owned companies to bring home cash held in offshore accounts.

Nazarbayev, in what appeared to be something of an angry rant at a meeting with central government and regional officials, said: “Eighteen Kazakh companies keep $12 billion abroad. That money could help our economy… The state provided you with the conditions to make that money and you are hiding that money of Kazakhstan somewhere else? Enough is enough!”

“Enough of toying around, look at them, carried away with their games, keeping their money abroad, buying yachts and mansions in multiple countries,” he continued. “It is safer to keep money here, at home, we will ensure it is safe.”

Nazarbayev, 77, has in fact never cracked down on Kazakh oligarchs and state-owned companies for stashing money abroad during his 26-year presidency. Moreover, the president has made no attempts to implement legislation that would require the returning of capital from offshore. The latest Kazakh amnesty campaign for such capital, as noted by multiple Kazakh analysts, was largely ineffective in retrieving money from foreign accounts.

The government, however, now claims to have embarked on measures to “withdraw out of the shadows” capital located in 19 offshore territories under the Strasbourg anti-money laundering convention. Astana ratified the convention in 2016, close to a decade after it was first applied. The whole matter, however, is shrouded in secrecy.

Nazarbayev ordered Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev to investigate why state-run companies had tripled their foreign cash holdings to $6bn in the first half of 2017, although the president did not cite a source for his figure.

“If you fail to do this, I warn you in front of the whole Kazakhstan, I will use other ways to return that money to Kazakhstan, but you will not be here any more,” Nazarbayev told his cabinet.

“Tengizchevroil – $4.5 billion, National Company KazMunayGaz – $3 billion, KazMunaiGas Exploration and Production – $2 billion,” he said, listing Kazakh companies as examples of those holding funds abroad.

“Why are you doing this? You keep your money there while profiting from Kazakhstan’s resources. Why is this money not being put to work in Kazakhstan?” Nazarbayev said.

He also called out Kazakh companies for delaying the transfer to Kazakhstan of $7.7bn in export revenue.

The Panama Papers document leak in May 2016 named Nazarbayev’s grandson Nurali Aliyev as among wealthy individuals with lucrative companies registered in offshore zones. The Paradise Papers leak of last month listed defence minister Beibit Atamkulov and the chairman of the KazMunayGas energy giant, Sauat Mynbayev, as among other Kazakh individuals who are owners of offshore companies.

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