* UniCredit sells assets to turn to profit after crisis
* Kazakh deal may be struck already in late March
* ATF has wide network and vast non-performing loans
(Adds details, background)
By Mariya Gordeyeva
ALMATY, Jan 31 UniCredit, Italy's
largest bank by assets, may sell Kazakhstan's ATF Bank
to a firm owned by Kazakh businessman Galimzhan Yesenov for
about $500 million, sources close to the deal and in ATF Bank
told Reuters on Thursday.
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.
The source close to the deal said the sale was expected to
be completed by the end of April.
UniCredit said it does not comment on market rumours.
Yesenov, a 30-year-old son-in-law of the mayor of
Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty, Akhmetzhan Yesimov,
heads a company called KazNitrogenGaz.
"The entire bank costs $500 million. Taking into account the
share of minority shareholders, the deal is worth a bit less
than $500 million," said the source close to the deal.
In December, UniCredit's head for central and eastern Europe
Gianni Franco Papa said it could sell its Kazakh unit if the
price was right.
Yesenov is better known in banking circles after holding
senior managerial posts in small and mid-sized local banks.
His father-in-law Yesimov is an influential career
apparatchik who has held a number of senior government posts and
is close to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev who has ruled
Central Asia's largest economy for more than two decades.
UniCredit bought ATF Bank, Kazakhstan's fifth-largest lender
by assets, for $2.1 billion in 2007, at the height of the credit
boom. It later raised its stake in the bank to 99.7 percent.
"A (preliminary) agreement between KazNitrogenGaz and
UniCredit Group was signed on Dec. 6, 2012," said the source
close to the deal. "Within a framework of this agreement, the
deal must be completed by the end of April."
A source at ATF Bank said, however, the deal could be
accomplished earlier, in late March. The deal has yet to be
approved by Kazakhstan's central bank, he said.
ATF Bank assets are estimated at over $5 billion. The bank
has three subsidiaries, including UniCreditbank in Kyrgyzstan
next door, and 17 branches across Kazakhstan's regions.
The bank's uncovered losses totalled around 11 billion tenge
($72.9 million) as of Jan. 1, 2013, while loans overdue more
than 90 days accounted for almost 43 percent of its loan
portfolio of 770 billion tenge.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Jewkes in Milan; Writing by
Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by David Holmes and Mike Nesbit)