22nd Oct 2020

EU to target Lukashenko money men in new sanctions

  • Relative asking to see inmates at the KGB prison in Minsk (Photo: EPA)

EU diplomats are preparing top-up sanctions on Belarus after President Alexander Lukashenko jailed protesters for up to four years and amid reports of torture by his secret police, the KGB.

The new measures are designed to cause pain for the leader's state budget and private income but to avoid a shock to the country's economy or to EU companies in Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Poland.

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The sanctions are to target individuals believed to be funneling money to the nomenklatura from petroleum products firms Belneftekhim and Triple, arms producer Beltechexport and the fertiliser company Belaruskalii.

The new package is being drawn up by EU embassies in Minsk and mid-level diplomats in Brussels and is likely to be adopted by EU foreign ministers in April.

Opposition leader and economist Jaroslav Romanchuk from the United Civil Party told EUobserver the EU should watch out for dirty tricks. "Due to the Belarus-Russia Customs Union, it would be very easy for Lukashenko to re-label Belarusian oil products as coming from Russia," he said.

Lukashenko courts have in the past few weeks jailed four people for up to four years each for taking part in post-election protests in December. More than 30 others face serious charges.

Another opposition leader, Ales Mikhalevich, has said the KGB tortured him at its high-security prison in Minsk in January.

Speaking in an interview with Ukrainian journalist Ihor Tymots, Mr Mikhalevich said he was taken from his cell by masked men, handcuffed and dragged along the ground with his face in the snow. He was beaten on the legs, held in temperatures of minus 10 degrees Celsius, deprived of sleep and made to inhale acetone fumes.

"My blood pressure is high and I am beginning to lose my vision. I am only 35, so I was one of the youngest and strongest political prisoners there. Only imagine, what is going on with those who have chronic illnesses," he said.

"I am one of few who was lucky enough to get out of this prison. I have to tell about the things I saw," he went on. "I don't want to see these people end up as psychological and physical cripples. Their lawyers have practically no access to them."

The EU is also preparing to update its existing list of almost 160 officials put under a visa ban and asset freeze in January.

The original list included a dead judge and a duplicate judge. It also omitted to impose an asset freeze on Yuri Sivakov, a former interior minister accused of murdering four dissidents and laundering extortion money for high-level officials.

The omission prompted conspiracy theories in Minsk.

One independent journalist who did not want to be named said the UK and the US kept Mr Sivakov out of the asset freeze to make President Lukashenko "paranoid" that he is an agent of Western subversion. EU diplomats say it was a clerical error. "The EU does not do psychological warfare," one diplomatic contact said.

The 64 or 65-year old Mr Sivakov is said to drink heavily and to belong to Chyest, a club for KGB veterans which has its office in the same building as Mr Romanchuk's political party.

A former US ambassador to Minsk has reported that Chyest used to wash up to $1.5 milllion a day of black money for the Lukashenko cadre via banks in Poland, Russia and the US. But Mr Sivakov, who ran Chyest in 2006, no longer seems to be highly active.

"I see Pavlichenko going in and out but I never see Sivakov," Mr Romanchuk said, referring to Dmitry Pavlichenko, a former security official also accused of killing dissidents and also on the EU sanctions list.

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