The home of presidential hopeful and former banker Viktar Babaryka has been searched.
(UPD 17.20) Viktar Babaryka was taken into custody, Ivan Tsertsel, Chairman of the State Control Committee, told state-run TV channel Belarus-1. He is reportedly being held in the KGB prison (Amerykanka).
“Babaryka was an apparent organiser and mastermind of the illegal activity, he tampered with the witnesses, tried to hide traces of previous crimes and take a large sum of money from his accounts just a very short while ago,” Tsertsel said.
According to him, the investigators are following a number of leads, including fraud involving promissory notes worth more than $60 mln, which allegedly resulted in transferring large sums to foreign accounts. In addition, Tertsel claims that the committee exposed ‘money laundering schemes’, making mention of Latvian bank ABLV. It is noteworthy that ABLV bank was liquidated in 2018.
“According to the information received from our Latvian colleagues, within a few years more than $ 430 mln was siphoned off from Belgazprombank’s accounts to those of ABLV in its interests,” he stressed.
Belgazprombank top managers got bribes and issued loans to people with bad credit records, Tsertsel added.
Search of Viktar Babaryka’s house. Photo: Iryna Arakhouskaya / Belsat
Moreover, there were reports that the apartment of Viktar Babaryka’s son Eduard might be checked as well.
There were special vehicles and security officers armed with machine guns near Babaryka house on Thursday morning. Notably, the vans had no number plates.
Viktar Babaryka and his son Eduard (he is also the head of the father’s campaign office) have been out of reach since morning; their phone numbers are unavailable. Presumably, they were taken to the Financial Investigations Department as part of probing into the case of Belgazprombank. Lawyer Dzmitry Layeuski is not allowed to see them; according to the officials, ”drills’ are being conducted in the building.
As reported earlier, presidential hopeful 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’.
At first, the committee said that Viktar Babaryka had ‘no procedural status in the investigation of the criminal case’, the committee’s press service told journalists. Last week, the Belarusian officials claimed they had ‘strong evidence’ of Babaryka’s being complicit in ‘illegal activities’.
In early June, incumbent president Alyaksandr Lukashenka hinted that one of the presidential hopefuls might be involved in fraud. He suggested Belarusian people ask the would-be candidate the following questions: “What is PrivatLeasing?” and “Where do you keep the money you fraudulently got in Belarus?” However, he failed to go into detail and give any name. In turn, Viktar Babaryka said that he knew PrivatLeasing company, since it was a long-time customer of Belgazprombank.
The former banker submitted an appeal to the Central Election Commission (CEC), pointing out the facts of Lukashenka’s alleged violations of the law, but election officials refused to issue a warning to the Belarusian leader.
With over 425,000 signatures collected for his presidency nomination, Viktar Babaryka is currently taking the lead among alternative candidates.