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Potential Lukashenka Challenger Babaryka Arrested On Suspicion Of Financial Crimes

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Viktar Babaryka speaks to reporters in Minsk on June 11.

MINSK -- Belarusian authorities have arrested a potential challenger to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in an upcoming presidential election after questioning him on allegations of tax evasion and money laundering.

The Committee for State Control (KDK) said on June 18 that Viktar Babaryka was arrested because he allegedly attempted to influence witness testimony and illegally withdrew a significant amount of cash from bank accounts, among other things.

Almost 20 employees of Belgazprombank have also been arrested, KDK head Ivan Tertel said, adding that many of the suspects "confessed" that they had illegally transferred hundreds of millions of dollars to Latvia via a scheme organized by Babaryka.

Babaryka led Belgazprombank for 20 years before he recently stepped down to be eligible to run against Lukashenka in an August 9 election.

WATCH: Hundreds of Minsk residents formed a human chain in the Belarusian capital on June 18 to show their solidarity with Viktar Babaryka:

Thousands Form Human Chain In Minsk Following Arrest Of Opposition Candidate
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Earlier in the day, the Belarusian state-run Television and Radio Corporation and Babaryka supporters said that Babaryka and his son "had been brought" to the KDK's Financial Investigations Department for questioning.

Babaryka's election campaign staff said lawyers for the two men were not allowed to be present during the questioning and that Babaryka's home in Minsk was searched by law enforcement officers.

Up to 2,000 people took to the streets of Minsk to show their solidarity with Babaryka and other jailed opponents of Lukashenka.

The participants stood in line, standing far apart from each other over coronavirus concerns.

By evening, the line stretched along three metro stops.

Belgazprombank was taken under Belarusian authorities' control on June 15.

Major shareholders of the Belgazprombank are Russian energy giant Gazprom and its Gazprombank.

Babaryka has said that the probes were designed to apply political pressure on him.

He has reportedly collected the 100,000 signatures needed to be registered as a candidate for the vote and was expected to submit his documentation in the near future.

In recent weeks, opposition rallies and gatherings in support of would-be candidates have attracted thousands of people across Belarus as the authoritarian Lukashenka seeks a sixth term.

Several opposition activists, politicians, and bloggers were sentenced to up to 15 days in jail this week for taking part in what authorities called "unsanctioned rallies."

On June 18 in Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called on Belarus to immediately release "all arbitrarily detained" activists.

"The rule of law must be respected. The Belarusian people are asking for democratic elections," she added.

None of the elections held in Belarus since Lukashenka took power in 1994 has been deemed free or fair by Western standards.

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