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Top Kazakh banker defends secret oil fund

On 17 April, Kazakh National Bank Chairman Grigorii Marchenko backed President Nursultan Nazarbaev's decision to divert over $1 billion into a secret National oil fund, telling journalists in Almaty that "this was the right decision from the economic point of view," although it may have been flawed from a political or legal perspective, Reuters and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Kazakh officials claim that almost $880 million of the $1 billion deposited five years ago in Swiss bank accounts was used to pay off pension arrears and support the national budget. Marchenko said on 16 April that the remaining $212.6 million was transferred in two tranches to a $1.53 billion National Fund of Kazakhstan, managed by the central bank, and that the second transaction had occurred on 15 April, Kazakh Commercial TV reported. He declined to reveal how much money the government still has in foreign bank accounts on the grounds that it is a state secret, Commercial TV reported, but promised that "detailed information" about the National Fund will soon be available on the Internet. Marchenko is the third senior government official to defend the secret fund as being in the country's economic interests, following Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev's endorsement last week and Prime Minister Imanghali Tasmaghambetov's original admission of its existence on 4 April.

(RFE/RL 19.iv.02)

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