Governments all over the globe throw emergency funds to keep airlines and key airports alive. In doing so desperate states cross all the internal EU and WTO lines that clearly prohibit this kind of actions. Pilots loose their jobs by thousands. Aircraft manufacturers cancel their profit forecasts. Tourism is agonizing and nobody even cares. There is a strange event unfolding right now: Almaty airport in Kazakhstan, which hardly made to the top-100 of the world’s busiest, is sold for a hefty sum of $435m, Die Freie Presse reports.

It’s true that is the biggest and the busiest in the ex-USSR Central Asian region and thus may have some strategic value. But let’s set aside the corporate mumbo-jumbo: it is as good as dead. The fact that it is the busiest in the region doesn’t make it any bigger than the airport of Malta by traffic. In fact, Maltese airport is of much greater importance.

The general infrastructure of the Almaty airport is a mess. It is too close to the city limits, the road network to the airport is thin. It is expensive to land there. In general navigational charges are sky-high as well as refuelling costs. Due to the specifics of airport taxiing, intensive towing is required. Terminal is neglected and every piece of the equipment looks underfunded. There were even plans to abandon the airport and build a new one from scratch – far away from the existent one.

It was built for an ambitious Soviet supersonic passenger jet, TU-144. The only good thing about the ALA airport is two really long runways. Almaty airport does not have any potential to grow, both in traffic and as an engineering project. It’s structure is mediocre to say the least. Almaty can’t pretend to be an aviation hub and interconnection central. It is obstructed by industrial and residential buildings and the weather conditions on site are often adverse.

Long story short: it’s always was a crap. Now, with this COVID-19 around the corner it is the crappiest crap money can buy.

Analysts made some calculation on its profitability and price potential. DAMU Capital Management evaluated the price of the Almaty airport as 180-210 million USD without any penalties or premiums imposed. The reasonable value is confirmed by another local financial company, Almaty Valuation Centre. But the airport was sold for a whooping $435 million. What’s the point? Who is the lucky seller and who is the seemingly insane new owner of this ugly duckling of airports?

It all makes sense as we take into account who owned the airport. Almaty International airport (ALA) was owned by “Almaty International Airport JSC”. It is in turn owned by Amsterdam-registered Venus Airport Investments B.V. In turn it is owned by Singapore-registered Steppe Capital Pte. Ltd. And its beneficiary is a well known person – the presidential son-in-law Timur Kulibayev. The Forbes number one richest and most influential businessman in the country. Timur Kulibayev is known for several large scale controversial acquisitions, oil and gas exporting schemes and close ties to Nazarbayev regime. His business practices were investigated several times, but authorities have failed to find punishable wrongdoings. Timur Kulibayev used political leverage to fend off any attempts to investigate his enormous wealth.

Almaty Airport was privatized in 1993. In 1998 it got a new runway and CAT II rating. Timur Kulibayev’s Venus Airport Investment B.V. acquired the airport in 2011 for just $86.7 million. The acquisition was marred by a row of scandals. Since the acquisition no improvements were made to the airport. Plans to build new terminal were cancelled.

Timur Kulibayev
Timur Kulibayev

The disastrous deal suddenly begins to make sense. As everywhere where Timur Kulibayev is the seller we have the sound reasons to expect something fishy. We hardly expect this deal to be any different.

The buyer is the Turkey-registered TAV Airports company owned by French Groupe ADP and somewhat secretive VPE Capital. Groupe ADP operates a bunch of world-class airports, including all three major airports in Paris. It’s highly intriguing that the French state-owned Groupe ADP is involved in this fishy deal while standing in line to receive the emergency funding themself. Striking the commercially senseless deal with Timur Kulibayev, the highly controversial Kazakhstani PEP, is exactly what’s needed to get the lifeline. That’s what I call the perfect timing for such acquisition!

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