December 6, 2017 / 6:07 PM / 2 years ago

Kazakh leader tells cabinet: Make state firms move cash home or you're fired

ASTANA (Reuters) - Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev threatened on Wednesday to sack his cabinet if they failed to make large state companies bring back cash held abroad.

FILE PHOTO - President of the Republic of the Kazakhstan Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (not seen) attend a joint news conference at Prime Minister Office in Tokyo, Japan, on November 7, 2016. REUTERS/David Mareuil/Pool

Nazarbayev, who wields sweeping powers in the oil-rich nation, also poured scorn on executives in private sector companies who, he suggested, were enjoying lavish lifestyles while keeping funds in foreign accounts.

“Enough of toying around, look at them, carried away with their games, keeping their money abroad, buying yachts and mansions in multiple countries,” he said at a meeting with central government and regional officials.

“It is safer to keep money here, at home, we will ensure it is safe.”

Nazarbayev ordered Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev to investigate why state-controlled companies had tripled their foreign cash holdings to $6 billion in the first half of 2017. He did not cite a source for that figure.

“If you fail to do this, I warn you in front of the whole Kazakhstan, I will use other ways to return that money to Kazakhstan, but you will not be here any more,” he told his cabinet.

Nazarbayev said he also expected private sector companies to move cash back, citing Tengizchevroil, a joint venture led by Chevron, and state firm KazMunayGaz, as examples of groups keeping funds in foreign accounts.

“Tengizchevroil $4.5 billion, National Company KazMunayGaz - $3 billion, KazMunaiGas Exploration and Production - $2 billion.” Again, he did not give a source for those figures.

Tengizchevroil said it would comment later this week and KazMunayGaz could not immediately be reached for comment.

“Why are you doing this? You keep your money there while profiting from Kazakhstan’s resources. Why is this money not being put to work in Kazakhstan?” Nazarbayev said.

Citing central bank data, he said some companies had also abused liberal foreign exchange regulations to delay the transfer to Kazakhstan of $7.7 billion in export revenue.

Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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