Billionaire Utemuratov may be positioning himself to become President of Kazakhstan but corruption allegations persist.
Billionaire oligarch Bulat Utemuratov has emerged as a potential candidate for the presidency of Kazakhstan but his move into politics is likely to be dogged by accusations of corruption.
The current President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is reported to be considering stepping down in 2020 having run the Central Asian state since its independence in 1990.
According to the latest analysis of the political situation in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, Utemuratov is positioning himself to take over from Nazarbayev.
A list of potential presidential candidates published recently by Business Insider includes Utemuratov and notes that the billionaire has been polishing his image in preparation for a possible move into politics.
Several flattering profiles of the oligarch have appeared in the media as well as videos, many of which were created in the same month earlier this year. Utemuratov has also launched a website to explain his business and charitable enterprises.
Such promotional work is typical for political candidates wanting to boost their profile before the race starts in earnest.
Utemuratov currently holds no official position in Kazakhstan apart from being president of the national tennis association. However, a lack of political experience has not stopped other billionaires from running for office – most notably Donald Trump in the United States.
What may derail a political challenge by Utemuratov are the allegations of corruption that surround him, according to Business Insider.
Utemuratov has been a close advisor to Nazarbayev for decades and he has been accused of using these political connections to build a fortune of more than $4 billion.
He was described by a former official as Nazarbayev’s “personal financial manager” in a US diplomatic cable obtained by Wikileaks. Another diplomatic cable described Utemuratov as “a billionaire who has never had a business”.
Utemuratov has recently become involved in a scandal surrounding his personal relationship with Glencore, the worlds largest mining company. In reports by Source Material and The Times, it was revealed that a Glencore subsidiary, Kazzinc, had gifted Utemuratov a $23 million stake in Haileybury Astana, a Kazakh private school. This stake was given to Utemuratov for free and is a strange investment for a mining company. This follows a history of Glencore using influential locals to access the resources of developing countries. Many speculate that Utemuratov is being used as a front for Nazarbayev so hide money with some reports suggesting he has up to $9 billion hidden in Swiss accounts.
Questions over the source of Utemuratov’s wealth may make it difficult for the oligarch to win acceptance from the Kazakh public. Utemuratov may also need to explain why he has stashed his wealth in Monaco and Ireland rather than investing it all locally.
Utemuratov’s family office is based in Monaco and, according to recent reports, he has invested millions of dollars in a luxury real estate project in the principality.
However, Utemuratov is not the only Kazakh billionaire who is thought to have presidential ambitions.
According to Business Insider, Timur Kulibayev is among a number of front runners to replace Nazarbayev. Kulibayev has been described as the most powerful man in Kazakhstan’s oil and gas industry and he has the advantage of being married to the President’s daughter. He is worth an estimated $2 billion.
Another Nazarbayev daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, has also been suggested as a possible presidential candidate. She is a member of the Kazakh Sentate and was previously deputy prime minister.
While Astana is gripped with speculation about who might become the next President of Kazakhstan, the most obvious candidate remains Nazarbayev himself. It is entirely possible that the 78-year old may decide to hold onto power no matter how many promotional videos his challengers create.