UPDATE 1-UniCredit in talks to sell stake in Kazakhstan's ATF Bank-sources

Sat Nov 17, 2012 3:17pm EST

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ALMATY/MILAN Nov 17 (Reuters) - UniCredit, Italy's biggest bank by assets, is in talks with Kazakh investors over the sale of a controlling stake in Kazakhstan's ATF Bank, three sources with knowledge of the matter said.

A Kazakh government source said a deal was likely to be struck next year.

"The talks are about a controlling stake in ATF bank, most probably, this is a deal to be struck in 2013," the source told Reuters.

The source said the former owner of ATF Bank, billionaire Bolat Utemuratov, and a separate group of Kazakh businessmen were both interested in acquiring the stake from UniCredit.

A source at ATF said the price for the stake was still being determined.

"The talks have been under way for a few months now, and calculations are being made as to how much it would cost," that source said.

UniCredit declined to comment. The Italian lender, which has a strong presence in central and eastern Europe, has been cutting jobs, shedding branches and selling assets as it tries to restore profitability after being hit hard by the euro zone debt crisis.

It bought a 92 percent stake in ATF-Bank, the Central Asian nation's fourth-biggest lender by assets, for $2.1 billion in 2007, at the height of the credit boom.

Within a year it had to write off more than 500 million euros ($720 million) from its value as the credit crunch hit Kazakhstan's banking sector.

UniCredit said in March it would consider selling its interest in ATF-Bank should it receive a suitable offer.

Utemuratov, 55, is unofficially nicknamed "a grey cardinal" in the oil-rich Central Asian nation for his vast connections with Kazakhstan's political and business elite.

After Kazakhstan's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, he occupied senior posts, including that of Kazakh ambassador to Switzerland, secretary of the country's Security Council and chief of staff of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled for more than two decades.

According to U.S. magazine Forbes, his personal wealth was estimated at $1.5 billion as of March this year. (Reporting by Mariya Gordeyeva in Almaty and Silvia Aloisi in Milan; Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Alison Williams)

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