The Mysterious Path to Wealth of Kazakhstani Junior Oligarch Galymzhan Yesenov

In the biography of Galymzhan Yesenov, there are quite a few strange coincidences that many pay attention to when explaining his rise to the top of the Forbes list. While this is all true, looking at all these coincidences together raises far more questions than answers.

Galymzhan Yesenov is a businessman who ranked 14th in the list of the wealthiest Kazakhs last year. The new ranking has not been released yet, but Yesenov’s position clearly changed after he was appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors of Jusan Bank last summer, where he also became a majority shareholder. If we discard all the complex formulations, essentially Galymzhan Yesenov is its sole owner. It is precisely this change in status that is associated with one of the most important and not entirely understood coincidences in Yesenov’s life.

The thing is, no one can clarify the origin of the money with which Galymzhan Yesenov acquired Jusan Bank. Even formally, everything doesn’t look very smooth. The story began back in 2013 when KNG Finance LLP, where Yesenov was the general director, bought ATF Bank JSC. Yesenov immediately became the Chairman of the Board of Directors, but the main thing was not this, but what happened next. In 2020, First Heartland Jusan Bank JSC acquired 99.76% of the shares of ATF Bank JSC. Suddenly it turned out that Galymzhan Yesenov is the owner of ATF Bank, who also became a minority shareholder of Jusan Bank after the deal. And in 2023, Yesenov was granted the right to own First Heartland Securities JSC (FHS), the holder of 80% of the shares in Jusan Bank. This, in turn, increased Yesenov’s ultimate share of Jusan Bank to almost 100%.

The story seems logical and simple – some sell, others buy, and as a result, the owner changes. But there are questions that remain unanswered. Firstly, in 2013, the purchase of ATF Bank cost Yesenov $500 million. Where did Yesenov, who was only 31 years old at the time, get the money? There are second and third questions as well. Setting aside the question of the initial capital that allowed the former employee Galymzhan Yesenov to become one of the largest bankers and businessmen in the country (more on that later), there are many questions about what happened next.

In 2017, ATF Bank, already owned by Yesenov, received refinancing from the Kazakhstani government amounting to $260 million. The bank was neither systemic nor very important to the state’s economy. Moreover, its indicators were not so catastrophic or brilliant for the National Bank to allocate refinancing to it. Which, by the way, was non-refundable. Furthermore, in 2020, ATF Bank received another $80 million from the National Bank of Kazakhstan. And $350 million from the National Welfare Fund "Samruk-Kazyna."

A few months later, ATF Bank was sold to Jusan Bank, in which Galymzhan Yesenov thus became a co-owner. For now – a minority one. However, three years later, Yesenov was granted the right to own First Heartland Securities JSC (FHS), which holds 80% of the shares in Jusan Bank. This made him the owner of Jusan Bank. Moreover, this was not just a share purchase deal between businessmen; for some reason, the state of Kazakhstan was actively involved on Yesenov’s side. The question is – why? What outstanding merits does Galymzhan Yesenov have before the Republic of Kazakhstan?

To answer this question, one must go back to 2007 when Galymzhan Yesenov, a regular albeit well-educated manager, got married. This marriage opened the doors to the upper echelons of society for him and made him a wealthy businessman. Yesenov married the daughter of Akhmetzhan Yessimov. He is a well-known politician and businessman in Kazakhstan, the former mayor of Almaty, and (surprisingly) the Chairman of the Board of the Joint-Stock Company "National Welfare Fund" Samruk-Kazyna "from 2017 to 2021. Compare the dates and draw conclusions.

It was precisely after marrying Yessimov’s daughter that Galymzhan Yesenov, a simple project manager at the investment group "Seimar," requalified as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of "Delta Bank" and began a rapid banking career. Moreover, the history somehow modestly conceals how an employee manager suddenly became the owner of "Kazphosphate," paying $140 million for it, the origin of which is still unknown. Here is an excerpt from Galymzhan Yesenov’s biography.

In particular, it is about the fact that precisely at that moment when Yesenov suddenly bought "Kazphosphate," Yessimov, whose daughter he had just married, was the Chairman of the Board of Directors of NWF "KazAgro," closely related to "Kazphosphate."

A more obvious coincidence is in sports. Galymzhan Yesenov has led various sports organizations at different times: the Central Asian Triathlon Association, the MMA Association, the Chess Federation, and so on. And Akhmetzhan Yessimov became famous for organizing various sports events in Almaty. The most famous ones are the Seventh Winter Asian Games, which took place in Almaty in 2013, and the professional cycling race "Tour of Almaty," for the conduct of which a sports infrastructure was practically created from scratch in the city. And at the same time, his son-in-law was an active sports official. How sports events organized by the father-in-law affected the wealth of the son-in-law can only be guessed. Especially considering the fact that after Yessimov became the head of Samruk-Kazyna, Yesenov’s bank received $350 million from it.

Another interesting coincidence is that in May 2021, after AO First Heartland Jusan Bank acquired ATF Bank, Yesenov inexplicably sold "Kazphosphate." The buyer of the enterprise was the English company Kazphosphate Limited. But do not be fooled by the English registration – the company is owned by Russians: Sergey Momtsemlidze, Evgeny Shavel, and Mikhail Genkin, the owners of "Uralchem." Why Galymzhan Yesenov suddenly sold his most profitable asset to Russians is unknown. But precisely at that moment, well-known events were taking place in Kazakhstan, and the elite was changing.
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Yesenov’s father-in-law (by that time former) was losing his positions – now he holds not particularly impressive positions as an adjunct assistant to the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan-Elbasy, and Galymzhan Yesenov himself, on the contrary, was gaining momentum – President of Kazakhstan Tokayev awarded him with very honorary positions as the head of the country’s sports federations, which are very significant in the local hierarchy.

Against this background, there was also the obvious intervention of the state of Kazakhstan in the disputes surrounding the purchase of the bank by Galymzhan Yesenov. Here is a quote from the official statement on this matter: "This transfer [of the right to own First Heartland Securities JSC (FHS)] took place as part of a reached peaceful settlement, which put an end to numerous legal disputes between the shareholders of Jusan Bank, the Republic of Kazakhstan, and Galymzhan Yesenov. According to the terms of the settlement, Jusan Bank was returned to the jurisdiction of the Republic of Kazakhstan." Why the state (read – Tokayev) intervened in this dispute – there is still no explanation. But as a result, Yesenov became the owner, although the deal was clearly strange.

It is worth noting that just before the deal after which Yesenov became the actual owner of Jusan Bank, the government of Kazakhstan had numerous claims against the bank. The essence of these claims boiled down to the allegation that huge amounts of money had been withdrawn abroad through the bank. The amount mentioned was one and a half billion dollars. However, immediately after Galymzhan Yesenov became the owner of the bank, all claims were withdrawn. This was even officially announced by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Moreover, the formulations were so vague that even more questions arose. The main one being – it is unclear whose money exactly Yesenov used to buy Jusan Bank. If it was his own money, then under what conditions did the state suddenly intervene in the deal and withdraw all claims? If it wasn’t his own money, then whose money was it? And again – under what conditions were the claims withdrawn? And, most importantly, who exactly is behind all this incomprehensible movement? Tokayev? Nazarbayev and his family? Unnamed Kazakh oligarchs? Russians who bought the most profitable asset from Yesenov, and at a very advantageous price for themselves?

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