Tuesday

16th Jul 2019

Lukashenko's 'private banker' to face EU ban

  • A beauty pageant put on by Sport-Pari's parent company, Superloto (Photo: Superloto.by)

A tycoon identified as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's personal bag man is likely see three of his companies frozen out of doing business in the EU.

The firms in question, arms maker Beltechexport, investment vehicle BT Telecommunications and gambling company Sport-Pari - a recently-launched offshoot of the Belarusian state lottery, Superloto - have strong links with Vladimir Peftiev, an economic adviser to the president described by one EU diplomat as Lukashenko's "private banker" who uses the businesses for "money laundering."

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Peftiev's official duties include the chairmanship of Beltechexport and of the Belarusian state tennis association. He is also said to have shares in Austrian mobile phone venture Velcom, the Austrian-owned Prior Bank and in Belvneshekonom Bank. US business magazine Forbes in 2010 named him as Belarus' second richest man (after Lukashenko) with a fortune of around $1 billion.

The EU move is designed to punish the Belarusian leader for jailing opposition activists and reporters but without hurting the country's economy.

After visiting Belarus last week, the International Monetary Fund said it faces a "serious crisis" due to a runaway budget deficit. Minsk in May applied for an IMF top-up loan, with some MEPs and senior EU officials saying it should only get money if it frees political prisoners.

EU countries are unwilling to pressure the Washington-based lender, however

"The IMF normally does not set political conditions and I do not want to try to interfere in its decision-making in this case," Janos Martonyi, the foreign minister of Hungary, which holds the rotating EU presidency, told press in Brussels on Thursday (16 June).

One analyst said the Peftiev sanctions will not touch Lukashenko.

"It's easy for him to get money from any other Belarusian company, state-owned or private. In Belarus there are two legal state budgets - a normal one and the presidential fund. Nobody knows how the latter is formed. These targeted sanctions will ultimately hurt ordinary people," Dzianis Melyantsou from the Minsk-based Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies noted.

Italy and Latvia - which have business ties in Belarus - have voiced reluctance about the measures.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday (21 June) will seek to overcome opposition to the move. Ministers are also looking to publish a communique urging Minsk to free Polish reporter Andrzej Poczobut, telling it not to expect new EU development bank loans and warning it that bigger companies, such as oil and fertiliser firms Belneftekhim and Belaruskali, could be next.

Syria sceptics

Meanwhile, France on Thursday put forward a draft sanctions list of 12-or-so Syrian people and companies said to be funding or otherwise supporting President Bashar al-Assad's ruling clique.

An EU diplomat indicated Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain are not keen to take the step and that no decision is likely until an EU summit at the end of the week.

Hungary on Thursday also voiced scepticism. "I am deeply concerned about Syria but there are limits to what the EU can do ... I don't think these sanctions would bite to such an extent that they would change the attitude of the regime," foreign minister Martonyi said.

This story was altered at 10am Brussels time on 21 June. The original text said sanctions would apply to telecommunications provider Beltelecom. Sanctions imposed on 21 June in fact targeted BT Telecommunications

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