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Elections in Belarus: Lukashenka’s rival and his son detained on secretive charges

On 14 July, peaceful protests erupted across Belarus. People took to the streets of various cities mostly in small groups, clapped their hands, some were flying Belarusian flags. Photo by Serhiy Satsiuk
Elections in Belarus: Lukashenka’s rival and his son detained on secretive charges
The former head of Belarusian Belgazprombank Viktor Babaryka was the main rival of incumbent Belarusian President Alexandr Lukashenko at the upcoming presidential elections, according to unofficial web-surveys. Official ones are closely controlled by Lukashenko himself and can’t provide any reliable information.

Yet, Babaryka was arrested on 18 June 2020 on charges of tax evasion and money laundering. Why exactly before elections, Belarusian opposition asks, emphasizing lack of transparency and rule of law during the investigation, not to mention Lukashenko’s 26-year-long presidency that he currently seeks to prolong.

Moreover, Viktor Babaryka’s son Eduard was also detained, although he had no relation to Belgazprombank. Currently, they’re in the Belarusian Committee for State Security (KGB) pre-trial detention center. No one knows under what article they have been charged — this is “the secret of the investigation.”

Detention of Babaryka demonstrates disregard to detainee’s rights and principles of unbiased investigation

Babaryka’s lawyer Alexander Pylchenko described how Viktor Babaryka was detained.

On the morning of 18 June at about 9 a.m. Babaryka was on his way to the city. He was carrying lists of signatures to file them with the election commission. On a deserted country road near a cemetery, he was stopped by a highway patrol officer. While he was submitting the documents to the officer, several people ran over to the car. Babaryka asked them to introduce themselves, they hastily stuck something in his face but he couldn’t read anything. Babaryka was taken out of the driver’s seat and put on the back seat of his Tesla.

He said that if there were planned interrogation he was ready to arrive at the place and time specified upon request by an investigative authority. They answered: we will take you. Babaryka claimed that he views this as kidnapping and required his lawyers. Everyone got into Tesla, one of the unknown people got behind the wheel.

He was taken to The Financial Investigations Department (FID) of the republic. His possessions — a tablet, two phones, and a watch — were thrown onto the back seat of the car, whereas he was taken away into the building. The fate of the possessions and the car which is leased is still unknown. The personal search report doesn’t say anything about the things mentioned and the car.

Babaryka required inviting his lawyers as he was detained. Lawyers tried to get inside the building but the entrance was closed. In this building by the way there is not only FID, so other people first entered it. It was closed only for lawyers. FID refused to accept their documents, as well as an appeal against arbitrary and unjustified detention. Only the next morning lawyers were invited for questioning in Belarusian KGB.

At first, nobody knew where Babaryka was. How he was doing was not clear. If he needed medical assistance was not clear. Not to mention legitimacy.

The case also lacks publicity and transparency, according to the lawyer. Under fear of criminal prosecution, lawyers are forbidden to name the articles of the Criminal code under which Viktor Babaryka is charged, even if this information leaked to the public. The сonfidentiality also concerns the place where the defendant, subject to preventive measures, is being kept. And much much more…

“But it’s not the main thing, the main one is that you can’t challenge stringent claims about hard evidence of Viktor’s involvement in criminal activities,” says Babaryka’s lawyer Pylchenko.

Eduard Babaryka, son of Victor Babaryka was also detained on charges that are “secret of investigation”

Eduard Babaryka and Alexandra Zvereva. Source: Voices from Belarus

According to the State Control Committee (KGC), Viktor Babaryka was allegedly the “head of illegal activities”, as a result of which over $ 430 million were withdrawn from Belgazprombank accounts. The situation is even more strange with Babaryka’s son Eduard, who supported his father in the election race and headed his initiative group. He did not work at Belgazprombank, but he was also charged. Charges against him are also officially a “secret of investigation.”

“Non-disclosure subscriptions were taken from lawyers. In such a situation, it is difficult to provide protection, especially if there are some echoes of the case in the media. It turns out that, on the one hand, there is informational stuffing, on the other hand, lawyers cannot comment on anything, because they are under subscription. This is a difficult situation from a legal point of view,” says lawyer Maxim Znak.

Eduard was the head of the crowdfunding platforms Ulej and MolaMola. Accusations of tax evasion, in this case, are weird.

Eduard and his father tried to do everything so that something new and significant appeared in Belarus. They wanted to change the country for the better. That is why the father’s bank and son’s crowdfunding platforms returned paintings to the homeland, financed the Theatre festival, and organized an autumn salon.

According to Alexandra Zvereva, Eduard Babaryka’s girlfriend, she and Eduard spoke on Wednesday evening, just before the arrest, and she asked the question:

“Eduard, if you are detained, what will be the plan of action? How can I help you?”

Eduard replied:

“You must understand that I am not running for president. I am completely clean under the law, I did not conduct any operational activities in the companies that appear in the investigation, so it’s even hard to come up with something here. If they detain me, it will be the height of cynicism.’

The next morning he was detained.

Commenting about Babaryka’as decision to run for the presidency and his son Eduard helping him, Zvereva said:

“When Eduard told me that Viktor Dmitrievich was going to run for president, I asked how he (Eduard) had let him do it… You know what country we live in… If it was my father, I would have barricaded the door, ate the keys and would have done everything to talk him out of this step. But Viktor Babaryka is not my father but Eduard’s. And he raised a strong and courageous son who supported his father’s decision and worked hard 16 hours a day from the very beginning.”

While Viktor Babaryka and his son Eduard are in the detention facility of KGB, his team has submitted the documents to the Central Election Commission to register Viktor as a presidential candidate. The commission refused, citing inconsistencies in his declaration. A wave of protests against the detention of Babaryka took place across the country on 14 July. Belarusians lined up in live chains, chanted “release” and beat people back from riot police.

Babaryka’s complaint about unfair non-registration was rejected. Another oppositional candidate Valeriy Tsepkalo, a prominent businessman and former Belarusian ambassador to the United States, was also not registered by the Central Election Commission. Currently, Babaryka and Tsepkalo have united with Sviatlana Tsikhanovska, the only oppositional candidate allowed in the game. They ask people to vote for her.

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