Five years in a high-security prison camp and a loss of property is a sentence demanded by a prosecutor in trial against Ales Bialiatski, a human rights defender, charged with large-scale tax evasion. The sentence will be pronounced on Thursday.
In his final speech, Bialiatski – the head of Viasna Human Rights Center, said that his trial has had a “political context, from the very beginning till the end”. He stressed he is absolutely innocent, and pointed to the fact that he could have left the country before he was detained, but he chose not to.
The judgment will be delivered tomorrow at 11 am Belarusian time (Minsk GMT+3). The prosecution accused Bialiatski of not paying taxes on money deposited into his Polish and Lithuanian accounts between 2007 and 2010. The money, which according to the prosecution constituted hidden income, amounted to 560 thousand euro.
Bialiatski’s explanation that the money did not constitute his personal income, but where subsidies for human rights defense and support to those persecuted in Belarus due to the political reasons, was rejected by the prosecutor. In his opinion, Bialiatski was deciding in an arbitrary manner on how to spent money, he did a certain job and than received some funds, which basically means – according to the prosecution – that he should have paid taxes.
Bialiatski’s lawyer pointed to the fact that the bank documents presented as an evidence were not translated from the foreign languages, and lack stamps and signatures. Some of the materials used in the trial were anonymous. What is more, the defense drew attention to the fact that there was no proof that the means from the foreign accounts have ever reached Belarus.
Finally, the defense recalled a law that says that money which are obtained to be given to a third person are not taxed.
Bialiatski was detained on August 4th. The charges against him were based on documents about his foreign bank accounts, handed over to the Belarusian authorities by Poland and Lithuania. During the trial, Bialiatski argued that he opened these bank accounts under his name because the organization he is heading has no official registration, hence cannot have an account in Belarus. He also added that all the money from both bank accounts were used for the human rights defense.
Viasna is one of the best known NGO ‘s in Belarus. It was launched in 1998, but in 2003 it lost the registration due to Supreme Court ruling, because Viasna members served as observers in presidential elections in 2001. Viasna activists has attempted to register the organization three times since 2003, but each time their motion was rejected by the authorities.