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Belarusian Would-Be Presidential Candidate Targeted In Tax-Evasion Case

Viktar Babaryka speaks at a press conference in Minsk on June 11.
Viktar Babaryka speaks at a press conference in Minsk on June 11.

MINSK -- Belarusian financial investigators claim they have evidence that an opposition politician who is seeking to challenge President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in polls due in August is involved in illegal activities.

The June 12 announcement by the Department of Financial Investigations of the State Control Committee (KDK) comes a day after investigators raided companies and a bank linked to Viktar Babaryka in two separate criminal cases related to tax evasion and money laundering.

Around 15 people were arrested at Belgazprombank, the presidential press service said.

Babaryka headed Belgazprombank, the local unit of Russia's Gazprombank, before launching his presidential bid.

"I can't imagine that what was done in the bank by the deputies could have been unknown to the director," KDK Director Ivan Tsertselia said, adding that investigators had "convincing evidence of [Babaryka's] involvement in this illegal activity."

In a YouTube message posted on June 11, Babaryka called the raids a "pressure" tactic ahead of the vote set for August 9, adding that "representatives of the current leadership are ready to use any means to prevent fair elections."

Babaryka also said he had already collected 300,000 signatures in support of his candidacy for president, while a minimum of 100,000 is needed to qualify for the ballot.

The 65-year-old Lukashenka, who has ruled the former Soviet republic for a quarter of a century and is seeking a sixth term, said on June 12 he was "not afraid of anyone."

"This situation does me no good, but the bad guys had to be arrested," the Belarusian leader said.

Opposition rallies and gatherings in support of would-be candidates have attracted thousands of people across Belarus in recent weeks.

Lukashenka responded by ordering arrests, including of two key opposition leaders, firing his government, and vowing there would be no revolution in the country.

Lukashenka's critics say his government has shown little tolerance for dissent and independent media, and none of the elections since he took power in 1994 has been deemed free or fair by Western standards.

With reporting by AFP and BelTa
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