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New Year, New Personal Bankruptcy Law--in Kazakhstan

posted by Jason Kilborn

The list of countries with new personal insolvency laws continues to grow. Bloomberg noted today that the President of Kazakhstan had signed a new law setting out several procedures for relieving the debts of non-entrepreneur individuals (sole proprietors remain relegated to the existing law on rehabilitation and bankruptcy). The text of this 30 December 2022 law is here (in Russian only), and most of its provisions will become effective in 60 days, around March 1, 2023. 

The structure of this law and its four pathways to relief are clearly inspired by the 2015 law of Kazakhstan's northern neighbor. This indicates a continuing trend, as new personal insolvency laws are generally based on a model from the law of a country the adopting country respects, and the model in this case is a fairly good one (the parent law is described here and here). The Kazakh law differs in some respects from this predecessor model, but the basic system is the same: (1) a no-asset procedure ("out-of-court bankruptcy") providing a simple discharge to debtors with debt below about $11,000 (i.e., 1600 "monthly calculation units," which for 2022 was KZ₸3063, just over US$7, so 1600 x $7 = $11,200), (2) a 5-year payment-plan procedure ("restoration of solvency") for debtors with regular income who choose to propose a 5-year plan for court (not creditor) approval, (3) a traditional liquidation-and-discharge procedure ("judicial bankruptcy") unfolding over six months and leaving the debtor with exempt property, including a sole residence, and (4) a settlement option ("amicable agreement") for debtors who manage to convince their creditors to agree to a private compromise (read: never!).

While the requirements for accessing the no-asset out-of-court bankruptcy procedure seem wildly unrealistic and uniquely austere (no property of any kind!?), the new Kazakh system is fairly well structured. Judging by the northern neighbor's recent experience with its very similar set of procedures, it seems most likely the payment-plan procedure will be selected by very few debtors, and the courts will reject the unviable plans of the few debtors who try to pursue this route. Judicial bankruptcy will become the main pathway to relief, which seems to be within reach for ordinary Kazakh citizens. Eventually, the extremely restrictive access requirements for out-of-court no-asset bankruptcy seem likely to be relaxed--either in practice or in a first round of law reform--and that procedure will become the workhorse for the personal bankruptcy system.

Yet another laboratory to observe the effects of the messy compromises that create personal insolvency procedures--and thank goodness, yet another large population of debtors who finally have access to legal relief from debts that would otherwise hound them and their families forever, with no hope of recovery. The new year brings new hope for such families in Kazakhstan!

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