* Kazakhstan to review asset sales by state firms
* Move follows arrest of key uranium figure
By Olzhas Auyezov and Maria Golovnina
ALMATY, June 2 Kazakhstan said on Tuesday it
will review all asset sales in strategic sectors after accusing
a key metals industry official of stealing some of the country's
most lucrative uranium deposits.
The uranium probe in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic
lying on a fifth of the world's uranium reserves, comes at a
time of higher demand for the radioactive metal due to the
world's renewed interest in nuclear energy.
It also highlights deep-seated divisions among the ruling
class in an oil-rich country where President Nursultan
Nazarbayev, in power for 20 years, has no clear successor.
Samruk-Kazyna, the state welfare fund controlling big state
companies including Kazatomprom, said in a statement it will
review all asset sales in sectors ranging from oil and gas to
banks and telecoms.
The review will include cases where joint ventures were
created or assets were transferred to establish new companies.
Foreign investors often operate their businesses via joint
ventures with state companies in Kazakhstan, which has attracted
more than $50 billion in foreign investment since independence.
Samruk said it will also audit the procurement process at
state oil and gas company KazMunaiGas as well as the state
railways company, both of which are under its control.
The Samruk announcement follows the arrest of Mukhtar
Dzhakishev, former head of state uranium company Kazatomprom who
was accused this week by the KNB security service of illegally
gaining control over 60 percent of Kazakh uranium riches.
The KNB has quoted Dzhakishev as denying the charge. It said
he had transferred ownership in uranium mines worth tens of
billions of dollars to a number of offshore firms owned by him.
The case is a worry to foreign investors who have courted
Kazakhstan and invested actively in its fields in recent years
as uranium demand continued to grow in line with rising
requirements for nuclear power to replace fossil fuels.
Japanese companies doing business in Kazakhstan said they
were closely watching the case. Shares in Canada's Uranium One,
another uranium investor in Kazakhstan, have fallen sharply
since news of Dzhakishev's arrest. It said it was cooperating
with the investigation.
The probe also has caused a stir in Kazakhstan, a tightly
controlled nation where public debate is usually muted and where
state media keeps a firm grip on controversial news items.
The opposition has publicly joined forces with top business
leaders to express support for Dzhakishev and used open letters
to appeal for justice.
In a statement on Tuesday, the opposition Azat party said
the case will hurt "trust in the predictability and stability of
Kazakh policy in the nuclear sector." A headline in the state
Kazakhstan Pravda daily said: "Uranium king loses his crown".
(Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Keiron Henderson)