A convicted embezzler and his politically-connected partner have set up a private equity group in Singapore, raising concerns about regulatory oversight in the country.
Margulan Seisembayev is a former goat herder from Kazakhstan who accumulated a fortune as chairman of Alliance Bank, one of the country’s largest lenders. The bank collapsed during the financial crisis and Seisembayev was convicted of embezzling an estimated $1.2 billion.
After his conviction, Seisembayev set up Asadel Partners in Singapore to invest in agricultural projects. His wife, Saule Seisembayeva, owns 47.51% of the company, according to Singaporean corporate records.
Singapore’s company rules ban directors who have convictions for financial crimes but Seisembayev appears to have got around this restriction by holding the shares in his wife’s name and acting as “managing partner” rather than as a director.
Another 50% of Asadel is owned by Fabiano Ltd, a holding company based in the United Arab Emirates that is ultimately controlled by Galimzhan Yessenov.
The partnership between Seisembayev and Yessenov has raised concerns over the origins of their wealth and the numerous opaque, offshore companies used to hold their assets. The use of such entities is considered by anti-corruption bodies as a red flag for possible money laundering.
The launch of Asadel in Singapore comes despite a crackdown by the authorities in the wake of the 1MDB scandal and attempts by the country to improve its anti-money laundering reputation.
Seisembayev is a controversial figure in Kazakhstan and he has been forced to flee the country twice. The first occasion was in 2009 when Alliance Bank collapsed.
Seisembayev was convicted by the Kazakh courts of embezzling from Alliance Bank and he was given a two-year suspended sentence. The UK High Court also froze his assets, although this was subsequently withdrawn when the businessman returned to Kazakhstan.
Seisembayev fled the country again in 2017 when another business partner, Iskander Yerimbetov, was charged with corruption and money laundering relating to BTA Bank.
In a Facebook post, Seisembayev said that he had been “called in for questioning by the financial police” following Yerimbetov’s arrested.
Yerimbetov was given a seven-year sentence for corruption while working for BTA’s boss Mukhtar Ablyazov, who also fled Kazakhstan after allegedly embezzling $6 billion from the bank. Yerimbetov’s sister, Bota Jardemali, works as a lawyer for Ablyazov.
Asadel’s other shareholder Galimzhan Yessenov is, by contrast, close to the Kazakhstan’s political elite having married the daughter of Akhmetzhan Yessimov, chairman of the country’s sovereign wealth fund and a close ally of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Months after their wedding in 2007, Yessenov acquired a company called Kazphosphate for $120 million – he was just 25 years old at the time and had no assets of his own. This has led to speculation that he acquired the company, which is based in the UK, on behalf of his father-in-law or other political figures.
There has also been speculation that the purchase of ATF for $500 million was also financed with help from Yessenov’s political friends in Kazakhstan. The businessman was just 31 at the time of this transaction and he does not come from a wealthy family, raising concerns about where the money came from.
Regulators in the UK are understood to be aware of unusual circumstances surrounding Yessenov’s purchase of Kazphosphate and other assets.