* 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 (Reuters) - 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. ($1=150.81 tenge) (Additional reporting by Stephen Jewkes in Milan; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by David Holmes and Mike Nesbit)