Authorities detain another activist linked to imprisoned presidential hopeful

Ilya Shapatkouski. Photo:

Ilya Shapatkouski, one of the leaders of the Decent People election monitoring initiative, was detained by officers of the Financial Investigations Department on Tuesday, human rights centre Viasna reports.

According to preliminary information, he was taken into custody under the so called Belgazprombank case.

The detainee was a good acquaintance of Viktar Babaryka, an imprisoned presidential wannabe and former CEO of Belgazprombank. Being involved in his campaign office’ work, Ilya Shapatkouski was responsible for signature verification activities. When authorities failed to register Babaryka as a presidential candidate, he joined the Decent People.

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As reported earlier, Viktar Babaryka had been Chairman of Belgazprombank Board since 2000. On May 12, when he revealed his presidential ambitions, he voluntarily resigned from his senior management job. Belgazprombank’s main shareholders from the Russian side are Gazprom and Gazprombank; in this view, Babaryka is often faulted for allegedly being linked to Moscow. At the same time, the prospective candidate has repeatedly put an emphasis on his being Belarusian. In his opinion, it is impossible to build an independent state when there is no solid foundation, i.e. culture and national identity.

On June 11, officers of the Financial Investigations Department (part of the State Control Committee) came to the head office of Belgazprombank. The department opened a criminal case under Art. 243-2 (large-scale tax evasion) and Art. 235-2 (legalisation of particularly large sums of money obtained through crime). Around 15 top managers and bank employees have been arrested as part of the case. Since June 15, the provisional administration has been in place in Belgazprombank in order to ‘protect the interests of depositors and creditors’, the Belarusian officials state. Viktar Babaryka called placing the bank under the state’s control ‘forcible takeover’.

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On June 18, Viktar Babaryka and his son Eduard (head of his campaign office) were arrested and taken to the KGB prison; their house and flat were searched. In late June, Amnesty International recognised them prisoners of conscience ‘persecuted solely for peaceful expression of their political views’.

According to the official version, when being Head of Belgazprombank, Viktar Babaryka received rewards totalling to 28 mln rubles from representatives of for-profit businesses; then he distributed the funds among the top managers of the bank. Last week, the prosecutors refiled the charge from Article 431-2 (active bribery) to Art. 430-3 of the Criminal Code (passive bribery).

On July 14, the Belarusian Central Election Commission made public the list of five people registered as candidates for the presidency. However, Viktar Babaryka and Valery Tsapkala, the two opposition candidates who submitted the most signatures, were denied registration.

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