UK Serious Fraud Office launches investigation into Kazakhstan's ENRC

By bne IntelliNews April 26, 2013

bne -

The UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced on April 25 that it is to launch a criminal investigation into LSE-listed Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. (ENRC).

The investigation will focus on allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption relating to the activities of the Kazakh mining giant and its subsidiaries in both Kazakhstan and Africa, the SFO said.

News of the investigation follows a series of controversies concerning corporate governance at ENRC. Prior to the start of its formal investigation, the SFO had already been examining $100m worth of contracts awarded by ENRC to a company linked to CFO Zaure Zaurbekova.

ENRC responded to news of the SFO investigation with a statement saying: "ENRC confirms that it is assisting and cooperating fully with the SFO. ENRC is committed to a full and transparent investigation of its procedures and conduct."

The threat is not so great financially, analysts say. "ENRC basically claims that the group is not guilty in any wrong-doing, but, should the SFO find them guilty, the best-case scenario would be a small fine (a couple of million dollars), and the worst case a significantly higher one," Visor Capital writes in a note. "Given that the majority of the previous fines inflicted by the SFO in similar cases have ranged from $1m-$12m, it is unlikely in our view, that there would be a significant cash impact on the company."

ENRC shareholders are, however, already considering taking the company private - less than six years after it listed on the LSE in December 2007, which saw it shoot straight into the FTSE 100. On April 19, Alexander Machkevitch, one of the so-called "ENRC troika" of founders, said that alongside the Kazakh government, they are considering making an offer to minorities that could see the company taken private.

Together, the three founders - Machkevitch, Alijan Ibragimov and Patokh Chodiev - hold 43.77% of ENRC. The Kazakh government holds 11.65%, while a further 26% is owned by fellow mining company Kazakhmys - in turn 26% owned by Astana.

The growing controversy at the company has recently resulted in a series of high level resignations, culminating in the announcement that chairman Mehmet Dalman had quit on April 23. He will be replaced by former Deloitte & Touche Switzerland CEO, Gerhard Ammann, who is already an independent director at ENRC.

ENRC has the largest iron ore mining and processing enterprise in Kazakhstan, and is the world's largest ferrochrome producer. It is also a major producer of alumina and has substantial reserves of chromium, manganese, iron ore, bauxite and coal. In addition to its operations in Kazakhstan, ENRC has operations in China, Russia, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa.

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