Olympics-Oil cash to ease IOC concerns over Almaty bid-Kazakh PM

By Karolos Grohmann KUALA LUMPUR, July 29 (Reuters) - Kazakhstan's $70 billion oil fund should ease any concerns regarding the nation's ability to host the 2022 winter Olympics, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov said on Wednesday with Almaty facing Beijing in a vote this week. The Prime Minister, who also heads the Kazakh city's bid to land the winter Games, said any worries about his nation's ability to deliver the multi-billion project are unfounded. "We are keeping income from the oil out of the (state) budget," Massimov told a small group of reporters ahead of Friday's vote by the International Olympic Committee. He said the fund, "based on the Norwegian model" with revenues from natural resources, now stood at $70 billion, some of which would be used for the Olympics if Almaty wins the vote on Friday. "It is like cash in the bank. We are ready to spend part of this money (for the 2022 Games)," he said. The IOC had highlighted some financial risk in its evaluation report on Almaty last month, noting the Asian nation's high dependence on oil with prices low at the moment. Massimov said his country was working towards diversifying its economy as it targets membership of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development). "In the next four to five years Kazakhstan will come out stronger of an era of low prices for commodities," he said. "25 years ago we used to be part of the Soviet Union. Now our direction is the World Trade Organisation, OECD, the Olympics. We want to change the image of Kazakhstan," he said. Kazakhstan had its WTO membership approved on Monday. "We can prove to the rest of the world that we can make this happen," Massimov said. This is Almaty's second attempt to land the Games after failing to make the shortlist for the 2014 winter Olympics. "I am quite confident that Kazakhstan is at a different stage. Our economy is better prepared for future development. We are better prepared than before," said Massimov. Beijing is considered the favourite in this race due to the country's financial clout and the city's previous Olympic experience in 2008. With Almaty racing to close the gap after a successful presentation to the IOC in June, Massimov remained vague when asked whether Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev would be flying in to support the bid. "Today is only the 29th of July," he said with a smile. (Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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