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Kazakh Regulator Finds Manipulation of Central Bank Unit’s Bonds

(Bloomberg) — Kazakhstan’s financial regulator said it detected almost two dozen instances of manipulation involving bonds issued by a central bank unit after examining 450 cases of suspected price-rigging in the local debt market last year.

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In a statement to Bloomberg News, the watchdog said a probe it concluded Jan. 13 found that 22 deals with Kazakhstan Sustainability Fund JSC’s bonds were transactions “committed for the purpose of manipulation.”

Without identifying the market participants it alleges were responsible, the Almaty-based regulator said it’s working to impose administrative liability on them.

Kazakhstan’s Agency for Regulation and Development of Financial Market was responding to a query from Bloomberg about a bond-market manipulation probe that hasn’t been made public until now.

The regulator broadly confirmed Bloomberg’s report, published last week, that it was scrutinizing trades involving securities issued by the sustainability fund, a state entity controlled by the central bank.

People familiar with the matter also told Bloomberg that the inquiry centered on transactions carried out by firms that included those run by billionaire Timur Turlov’s Freedom Holding. The regulator was probing trades that may have kept yields on the securities artificially low, the people said, declining to be identified because the information wasn’t public.

No Complaints

In response to Bloomberg last week, Freedom said it hadn’t received any complaints from the regulator over yields on securities issued by the sustainability fund. The company denied that any of its transactions — which it said are routinely audited — amounted to manipulation.

The watchdog didn’t specify if the probe implicated Freedom or its affiliated companies.

Citing regulatory filings as of Sept. 30, it said Freedom Holding owned $321.9 million worth of tenge-denominated bonds of Kazakhstan Sustainability Fund. That was about a fifth of Freedom’s entire investment portfolio at the time, according to the statement.

The regulator’s probe additionally determined that one more trade had the aim of manipulating the sustainability fund’s debt prices, resulting in administrative punishment on Aug. 9 for a market player it didn’t name.

The regulator’s website showed a company called TOO Ananasovyi Express — whose Russian name translates as “Pineapple Express” — was the only entity fined for manipulation on Aug. 9.

Bloomberg wasn’t able to contact the company, now called TOO Mukhtar Invest, or its owner and director.

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