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Belarus: EU To Freeze President's Assets

Investigators are looking into whether Lukashenka has secret funds stashed away (epa) PRAGUE, May 18, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The EU agreed today to freeze the assets of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and 35 other officials in response to the presidential election in Belarus in March. While Lukashenka is widely believed to have made a fortune in his presidential post in Belarus, hard evidence of this has not yet been produced.

In a statement today, the EU said it was taking the step to freeze the officials' assets to protest the flawed election in March and the continuing crackdown against opposition groups.

The move expands measures imposed in April, which placed a visa ban on Lukashenka and 30 other senior officials.

The EU said in the statement that "no funds or economic resources shall be made available, directly or indirectly, to or for the benefit of the persons involved."


So far, however, attempts on the part of Western investigators to track down any clandestine funds have not brought any conclusive results.

In October 2004, the U.S. Congress passed the Belarus Democracy Act, which in particular obliged the U.S. president to present annual reports on the sale and delivery of weapons and weapons-related technologies from Belarus to any countries supporting terrorism, and on the personal assets and wealth of Lukashenka and other senior Belarusian officials.

U.S. President George W. Bush presented such a report a few days before the March 19 presidential vote in Belarus.

In its unclassified part, the U.S. report asserts that Lukashenka is "likely [to be] among the most corrupt leaders in the world." But at the same time the report acknowledges that it is difficult to determine the precise extent of this corruption because of "the regime's lack of transparency and the blurring of personal and state property."

Washington also claims that Lukashenka controls a presidential reserve fund with assets "well over $100 million," which are not recorded in the state budget and are beyond public scrutiny.

Fallen Officials

However, the evidence to support such claims is sketchy and comes mainly from public pronouncements of former Belarusian officials who have fallen out of favor with Lukashenka.

One such official is former Belarusian National Bank Chairman Tamara Vinnikava, who was arrested in 1997 on charges of abuse of power and embezzlement and later placed under house arrest. She managed to escape to the United Kingdom in 1999 under undisclosed circumstances and afterwards gave a number of media interviews.

Vinnikava claimed that Lukashenka had ordered her arrest because she opposed "dirty deals" proposed by the government.

She confirmed earlier Russian press reports charging that Lukashenka issued confidential decrees exempting some organizations -- including the state-run Torgexpo company in 1995 -- of paying any taxes or customs duties for the import of consumer goods. Those untaxed goods, primarily vodka and cigarettes, were subsequently re-exported to Russia -- which had no customs controls on its border with Belarus at that time -- and part of the proceeds from their sale reportedly landed in Lukashenka's secret fund. Some estimates put Torgexpo's income at billions of dollars.

Vinnikava also said Lukashenka was cautious not to sign any documents relating to such murky transactions or to deposit proceeds from them in foreign banks under his own name. According to her, such deposits were made on behalf of bogus companies that were created especially for this purpose. Vinnikava suggested that such deposits may have been placed in San Marino, Cuba, and the United Arab Emirates.


It is also widely believed that Lukashenka has personally benefited from sales of Belarus's large stock of Soviet-era weapons. Again, the size of such profits may only be estimated on the basis of indirect evidence.

In 1996-98, Belarus sold some 50 Soviet-era aircraft and other air-force equipment for around $400 million to Peru, at a time of escalating tensions with Ecuador.

According to the book titled "The Mafia State," which was published by a Peruvian anticorruption investigator in Lima in 2001, the deal was handled by a chain of intermediary firms established in offshore jurisdictions especially for this purpose. As a result, the name Beltekheksport, Belarus's official arms dealer, was absent from the contract or any other document related to the deal.

"The Mafia State" asserts that the deal scheme was devised to divert some $120 million from Peru's payment for the Belarusian delivery. A part of this sum, the book claims, might have landed in secret accounts controlled by the Belarusian partner in the scheme.

Before his electorate in Belarus, Lukashenka poses as an unwavering fighter against official corruption. And he takes harsh measures against anyone trying to challenge this posture.

Valery Levaneuski, a leader of small vendors in Belarus, spent two years in prison on charges of defaming Lukashenka in a 2004 May Day leaflet, which featured the phrase: "Come and say no to someone holidaying in Austria, skiing there, and living well at your expense."

The leaflet hinted at Lukashenka's earlier winter holiday at a ski resort in Austria, where the Belarusian president traveled on his own plane and with his own bodyguards. Levaneuski apparently wondered how Lukashenka had managed to pay his holiday bill from his presidential salary, which he claims to be his sole source of income.

In his income declaration made public on the eve of the March 19 presidential vote in Belarus, Lukashenka stated that he earned in 2005 some 60 million rubles ($28,000).

Belarus Votes 2006

Belarus Votes 2006

Click on the image to view a dedicated page with news, analysis, and background information about the Belarusian presidential ballot.

MEET THE CANDIDATES: Read brief biographies of the four candidates in the March 19 election.

Click on the image to view RFE/RL's coverage of the election campaign in Belarusian and to listen to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service.